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Full text of "Repair men may gyp you"




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Eased upon a 48-State Investigation 
Conducted by The Reader's Digest 



Illustrated by Ralph Clark 




By ROGER Rus and JOHN PATRIC 



"For six months," says The Neiv York Herald Tribune, 
"the two authors of this perturbing little volume made a 
nationwide investigation of the higher nature, if any, of the 
American repairman. Buying a used car of distinguished 
make, they engaged the assistance of a lady who looked 
more helpless than she was, and traveled 19,000 miles, with 
1,700 calls on repair shops." 

"And no one," adds the Boston Post, "could ever pass 
this book with indifference Whatever your experience with 
repairmen may have been, you'll find its counterpart here. 
You will point it out with great satisfaction, and you'll say: 
'There! That's exactly what happened to me once.' And 
you're lucky if it has happened only once. The Post can't 
think of any subject for research that touches more people. 
Buy this book, and you will get your money back, over and 
over, in amounts saved through your wisdom." 

"There are some amusing stories in it," says the Baltimore 
Sun, and the Washington Post thinks that the funniest were 
"the authors' experiences with the Rube Goldberg testing 
machines used by some shops to impress customers." 

"The articles in The Reader's Digest were interesting," 
remarks the Springfield Republican, "but they left room 
for doubt. The book, however, with details of the almost 
laboratory caution used by the authors in making their tests, 
is alarmingly convincing." 

"Before you start on an automobile trip," cautioned the 
magazine Holiday seven years after this book first appeared, 
"take the advice of Riis and Patric. The mechanics haven't 
improved since they wrote REPAIRMEN MAY GYP You." 
"It ought to help people avoid unnecessary expense," adds 
the Neivark News, for, declares the Water bury American, 
"this is authentic testimony." "It will help promote the 
longevity," believes the Boston Globe, "of readers' watches, 
radios, cars, and typewriters." 

This survey was considered important enough by dozens 
of American newspapers to warrant editorial comment such 
as few books ever receive. Typical was this a part of an 
editorial in The New York Times- "It performs a real 
service for motorists." "By calling attention to the tricks 
employed," adds the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, "it should help 
to alert the public and discourage cheats." 

This book is printed from the plates of the first edition, 
with new front matter, 30 illustrations, a new jacket, and 
a far finer, more durable binding. 

For press comments about another book by one of the 
authors of this one, see the inside of this jacket, the part 
lies against the-book and is-usualkt-left blank. 



"The Routes of the Expedition' 

Ralph Clark's Map of a 1 9,000 Mile 
Journey for Reader's Digest into 
Every State, and 1 ,700 Repair Shops 



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"No matter what your experience 
with repairmen may have been, 
you'll find its counterpart here. 
You will point it out with great 
satisfaction and say: 'See! That's 
just what happened to me!' ' 

The Boston Post 



Acknowledgments 



First, to Lioy May, that "good old horse'n wagon," who worked so hard 
on these surveys. Next, to Robert Littell and William Cragin Lewis, whose 
intelligent editorial discrimination helped reduce some 1,900 case histories, 
hundreds of newspaper stories and thousands of readers' letters to the 
compass of this book. 

To Charles Huckins of Hux Cuts, and to Henry R. Diamond for the 
fine dust jacket drawings, and to Post Photoengraving Co., especially pho- 
tographer Phil Gordon, and etcher Bill Lambert. 

To Bill Riis, for letting me redesign and republish. 

To Sol Cantor and his fine crew at The Composing Room, Inc., for new 
typesetting and to Louie Bloom of Berkeley for more of the same, but 
mostly for the loan of a linotype machine to the author, who set most of 
these lines himself. And for still more bits of special type setting, to Wallace 
Kibbee and L. F. Deckard. 

To tough old Doubleday, who, to avoid more trouble with Patric, sold 
the plates of the unillustrated first edition, from which the text not the 
front matter nor the final pages was printed, at salvage prices. To Steve 
Johnson and Kingsport Press, for new electros. 

To Ralph Clark, without whose painstaking artistic craftsmanship I 
should never have attempted this new edition. All the drawings here are his 
except for a few American Typefounders' ornaments, and some illustrations 
taken from the jacket drawing. 

To Eddie Boland and to Bud Whitaker, of The Berkeley Engraving 
Company, for many of the photoengravings used in this edition. 

To Moore's Truck Terminal, and Johnson-Hilliard, for invaluable trail- 
er-parking privileges making possible an office-on-the-job. To The Ailing 
& Cory Company, paper merchants, for many a kindness. 

To Angelo Albanese, Henry Dodson, Joe Brancaccio, Phil Tamburino of 
Russo's in New York, for many a useful photostat. To patient Phil Kirchner, 
for the drawings from which Becker Bros, made the cover stamping dies. 

To the entire staff of Kingsport Press in Kingsport, Tennessee, for the 
fine job of book manufacture they have promised. 



FRYING PAN CREEK 
Florence, Oregon^ j I 



v WF 

/ :" -./H-' * 





Books by John Patric 



SIMON LEGREE'S BOOK 

a compilation of amiable hoaxes and of 
humor columns, from The Daily Texan 

GEOGRAPHIC JOURNEYS 

bound collection of illustrated articles 
on The United States, Czechoslovakia, 
Hungary, Italy, Spain, Japan, etc., from 
The National Geographic Magazine, in 
a limited edition 

FOR AUNTIE'S SAKE 

a MS play, produced several times by 
The Carolina Playmakers 

REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

(with Roger William Riis) : the famed 
Reader's Digest survey of watch, radio, 
automobile repairmen the whole story 

YANKEE HOBO IN THE ORIENT 
a journal of adventure in China, Japan, 
Korea and Manchuria, uniformly bound 
with Repairmen May Gyp You 

HOBO YEARS 

now in preparation: a tale of boyhood 
journeys in the United States, uniform 
with Yankee Hobo in the Orient 



Roger William Riis, son of the late, great Jacob 
Riis, author of the classic Making of an American, 
is a prolific magazine writer whose articles appear 
regularly in national magazines. He is currently a 
roving editor of The Reader's Digest. 



This has been one of the most widely discussed journalistic projects 
ever undertaken. Parts of the book were first printed in The Reader's 
Digest in a series of articles titled The Repair Man Will Gyp You If 
You Don't Watch Out; The Radio Repair Man Will Gyp You If You 
Don't Watch Out; The Watch Repair Man Will Gyp You If You 
Don't Look Out, and a fourth article that summarized the tremendous 
reader reaction. Millions of reprints have been distributed. Excerpts 
have appeared in newspapers and trade journals everywhere. Parts of 
this book have been reprinted in Canada and in Great Britain, and in 
translation, in many other parts of the world, notably Latin America. 

Radio dramatizations of some of this material have been presented over 
national broadcasting networks in both the United States and Canada. 



ACE RADIO & 
TELEVISION 
REPAIR SHOP 




Copyright MCMXLI 

by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc. 

Country Life Press 

Garden City, N.Y. 

Copyright MCMIL 
by John Patric, and published at 
Frying Pan Creek 
Florence, Oregon 



SECOND EDITION 



Contents 



1 Introduction 1 

In which Bill Riis, in Jersey, wonders, "Did I get gypped?" 

2 Pat's Letters 12 

"But 'tisn't easy, Bill, to work out a uniform test-for-gyppery." 

3 Automobiles 53 

"Lady, your manifold is gone; so's your carburetor!" 

4 Radios 126 

"Never give the customer his old parts." The Radio School. 

5 Watches 158 

"/ show you somedings. Vy should I schwindle people?" 

6 Typewriters 185 

"The more ignorant the customer, the more he oughtta pay." 

7 Vacuum Cleaners and Electric Irons 204 

"The power company keeps 'em running. They use juice!" 

8 What Is Your Experience? 210 

"It's cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the old one" 

9 Trade Reactions 227 

"Dai's all right. I'm an honest mechanic. I live on hot air." 

10 Magazine Excerpts 243 

"Let's not kid ourselves. . . . But people forget quickly." 

11 Aftermaths 250 

"Irresistibly, naturally, they set out to rook you." 

12 Doctors and Lawyers 261 

"Now why do you pick on us? Just look at the other guy!" 

13 Conclusion 267 

More laws will never make men honest. Pride often does. 



Illustrations 



Later surveys show television repairmen are even worse gyps 
and far less competent than radio men. Copyright page 

Within a few years, because of improper care and servicing, these 
fine machines which might otherwise, still faithfully, have been 
serving the original owners are scrapped. Page i 

Well-cared-for cars of yesteryear are proudly driven today by 
members of many really exclusive auto clubs. Page n 

In his old Lincoln, by the light of a standard-size six-volt bulb 
hooked to the car batteries, Patric wrote the story of the pains- 
taking preliminary explorations in letters to Riis. Page 12 

The mechanic, before he gave the motor more than a glance, 
pushed to our car one of the most impressive Rube Goldberg 
machines ever used to convince a customer. Page 52 

Of 304 radio shops of every type in every State and in Mexico, 
195 tried, by one device or another, to take advantage of the 
customer's ignorance. Facing page 52 

We always insisted upon an itemized bill before we paid. How 
gyps hated to itemize! We received 74 different explanations of 
what was wrong. And only one was correct. Facing page 53 

One dark Saturday evening a well-traveled coupe pulled up in 
front of a two-pump gas station in New Jersey. Page 53 

The more imposing radio and television shops are less apt to be 
truthful to their patrons, especially strangers. Elaborate "test 
panels" are often padded with dummy dials. Page 126 

American radio tubes are all marked "Made in U. S. A." We 
scratched off the periods. No repairman ever noticed, but we 
could always spot our own tubes: "Made in U S A" Page 757 



In San Antonio, a tinker, pulling a tool-laden child's wagon, 
quickly and well did the watch job with a razor blade. Page 158 

The words "certified" and "guaranteed," in watchmakers' ads, 
mean nothing whatever. Nor do his memberships in the trade 
or "horological" associations protect the customer. Page 184 

Watch and clock repair shops need no swank. Facing page 184 

Of 150 average, run-of-the-street typewriter shops tested, two- 
thirds gypped either the customer or the typewriter, or both. 
Incompetence and carelessness were usual. Facing page 185 

Most of the typewriter men left the machines in worse shape than 
they found them. The investigators' typewriters were soon vir- 
tually wrecked by inept "mechanics." Page 185 

Donald Duck takes our advice about itemized bills and old parts. 
His bill is two feet long. Junk fills his car. Page 203 

When the factory kept a watchful eye on its dealers, they told us 
the truth in a much larger percent of our test cases. Page 204. 

It's harder to fool truck drivers or motorcycle boys. Page 209 

At Reader's Digest, Mary Steyn, of Editorial Correspondence, 
begins to hear from the more articulate repairmen. Page 210 

"Tune-up Specialist" was, we found, almost synonymous with 
"Gyp." And "certified experts" meant nothing. Page 226 

In Lincoln, Illinois, a radio man gets tough. Page 227 

Famous jewelry names outcharged the little fellows, in spite of 
their eloquent claims of "dependability." Page 242 

"The male investigator and his female secretary" are pictured 
in a most uncomplimentary way by Motor Age. Page 243 

Riis and Patric are subjects of "$1000.00 Reward." Page 250 

We had already found that eye doctors often lied. Among them, 
Riis had found many unethical operators. Page 261 

"More garagemen starve to death than customers." Page 267 

Caspar Milquetoast finds an honest mechanic this time, but, as 
Cartoonist Webster tells us: "he doesn't always." Page 271 



To DeWitt Wallace 

whose breadth of interest and militant fairness 

have so often and so well served 

the American people. 




Illustrated by Ralph Clark 
Clifton, New Jersey 



1 



Introduction 




One dark Saturday evening not long ago, a well- 
travelled coupe pulled into a small New Jersey gas 
station the kind of country place where the owner- 
operator lives on the premises. 

"Ten gallons, please," said the motorist. 

The service station operator in this case a white- 
haired man of friendly dignity and courtesy went 
through the usual motions. His pump whirred busily; 
its gallonage dial went around until it reached the 
figure U 10." 

Then the motorist paid and drove away. 

It had been a thoroughly routine affair. 



2 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

Automobile drivers buy gas millions of times a 
day. This time, however, there was a difference. 

After the motorist had driven a mile or so down 
the road, he glanced idly at his gas gauge. 

It read "EMPTY." 

That had been its reading before the purchase of 
the ten gallons a few minutes earlier. 

Perhaps, the driver thought, his gauge had bro- 
ken. He stopped to investigate. He tried in vain to 
get a stick past the curve in the gooseneck of the tank. 
Finally he decided to return to the gas station and 
consult. Maybe that pump had not worked. 

The old man was obviously upset at the possibility 
that his pump had delivered no gas. 

"I wouldn't have had that happen," he protested. 
"I don't understand it. It never happened to me be- 
fore. The pump acted all right. I'm sure you got the 
gas. Let's figure how to reach in there and find out." 

But the motorist had another idea. 

"This is a 20-gallon tank," he said. "Put in gas 
until it runs over; then from twenty we subtract the 
number of gallons it takes. That way we find out how 
many gallons are in it now." 

So they pumped until gas splashed over, and it 
took nineteen gallons. The gas station man was genu- 
inely apologetic, and if a human face reliably regis- 
ters, he had been honest. He was reluctant to accept 
any money for any of the gas. As the motorist drove 
away, the old man walked back into his home, shaking 
his head, seeming to mumble uncertainly to himself. 

That night, in Atlantic City, the same driver 



INTRODUCTION 3 

turned his car over to the hotel porter for delivery 
to the hotel garage for storage. In the morning he 
went himself to get it. 

On the bill was an item of $2.50. 

"What's that for?" the driver asked. 

The attendant consulted some records. 

u You had a flat tire. We fixed it," he replied. 

"I didn't have any flat tire when I drove in here." 

"No," replied the attendant. "It went flat during 
the night sometime." 

So the motorist paid and started homeward. 

On the way, the incident of the high-priced noc- 
turnal flat tire and the deceptive gas pump came to- 
gether in his mind, and a more or less idle thought 
was born : 

"I wonder whether both those cases were on the 
level, or whether both were deliberate gyps?" 

Perhaps the gas man was honest; perhaps the 
Atlantic City garage was not. That was the way it 
had seemed. How would it run throughout a motor- 
ist's experience? Some service men were O.K. Some 
were not. 

"What would the actual percentage be ? Wouldn't 
it be interesting to take a car and visit ten or twenty 
stations for some identical service, and see how they 
performed?" 

With these thoughts, there was born an idea that 
grew into a nationwide survey of repairmen here 
recorded. The motorist was Roger William Riis, co- 
author of this book. He had previously made investi- 
gations for The Reader's Digest, and the following 



4 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

week he casually mentioned the vague idea to DeWitt 
Wallace, founder and editor of that magazine. 

Mr. Wallace caught the suggestion instantly, and 
with the judgment that made him the ablest editor 
of our time, he enlarged upon it. 

"It's got great possibilities," he said. "Let's get 
at it right away. I know a fellow who can help you." 

At this point, John Patric came into the story. 
He had owned 23 different cars, most of them jalopies 
he fixed himself. But he had driven new cars, too, that 
others had serviced, and he remembered like inci- 
dents: In a Sacramento storage garage he once had 
found on his windshield a bill for $5.50 for a new 
upper radiator hose, and had been told that "it 
must have sprung a leak just about the time you drove 
in, because it was pouring water all over our floor. 
Of course we knew you'd want it fixed before you 
ruined your motor." 

Another time, Patric recalled, he had been check- 
ing over some bills from a Seattle garage that for 
three months had regularly serviced his car, and had 
found that each time that car was lubricated, he had 
been charged for a pound of transmission grease a 
total of ten pounds in not more than that many weeks, 
allegedly pumped into a transmission and rear end 
that did not leak! 

Yet, Patric insisted, these were exceptions. Garage 
men would be found to be "95 per cent honest just 
wait and see !" 

Though our critics later charged that we had 
deliberately set out to find gyps (one garageman 



INTRODUCTION 5 

charged that the whole affair had been "conceived in 
iniquity and born in sin"), such was not the case. 

While it was true that acts of servicemen them- 
selves are responsible for this book by making us 
wonder what the percentage of honesty would be, 
none of us at any time foresaw the way our survey 
would turn out. 

We were interested only in a journalistically fool- 
proof job, and nothing more. 

Obviously, as we often remarked, it would make 
a good story whatever we found. If the repairmen 
proved to be virtually 1 00 % honest, that would make 
fine, heartwarming reading for their fellow Ameri- 
cans. If, on the other hand, they proved to be nearly 
100% crooked, that also would be an interesting 
if alarming story. And any intermediate percentage 
would be equally good. 

Wallace and Riis believed that Patric should 
cover at least "seven or eight states enough to get a 
good cross-section." But Patric had other ideas. With- 
out discussing his plans in detail with either his col- 
league or his editor lest they be vetoed he hoped 
to include in his survey every state in the Union, and 
Mexico and Canada. Editorial deadlines didn't allow 
a Canadian check, but a great Canadian newspaper 
made one for us, with results identical to ours. 

Too, Patric wanted to spot-check mechanics in 
the largest possible number of towns and cities. Ten 
different checks in five different towns would be more 
interesting, he reasoned, than ten in one town. 

Riis suspected that if we were to find gyppery 



6 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

commonplace, it was likely that women, because of 
their more limited knowledge of mechanics, would 
be gypped more often and more flagrantly than men. 
It was to test this theory that Patric hired Miss Lioy 
May, who, dressed simply and inexpensively, looked 
and acted the part of an ordinary American housewife 
in modest circumstances who couldn't afford to be 
gypped. 

One day, as the beginning of the actual survey 
drew near, Wallace and Patric were driving together 
from Pleasantville to New York. Patric had ex- 
plained to his editor the simplicity of each minor 
maladjustment the loose wire, belt, or tube that 
would be the basis of each test, and how simply, easily 
and quickly an honest mechanic could correct it even 
without tools. 

"What percentage will make some kind of 
charge, do you think?" 

"No more than half, Wally maybe even fewer." 

Wallace rode in silence awhile. Then he said: 

"Pat, can't we pay all of them?" 

"It won't take any of them more than a minute or 
so to put our equipment back into fine running order 
and they'll all see immediately what's wrong." 

"That's not my point," Wallace replied. "We'll 
be paying whatever the crooks care to charge us, and 
paying many honest men nothing. It isn't fair," he 
continued, frowning. 

"But, Wally," Patric protested again, "there'll 
be some men who simply won't accept anything for 
the slight and quick adjustment they'll have to make." 



INTRODUCTION 7 

"Well, it's up to you to find a way to induce all of 
them to accept something," Wallace replied, with 
finality. "Otherwise, though we take but a few min- 
utes of time from each honest man we encounter, we 
will in the aggregate take days of their time without 
recompense. I won't do it." 

It was Patric's turn, now, to drive in silence down 
the parkway, thinking, and sometimes thinking aloud. 

"They might smell a survey if I insisted too 
hard," he said. "I suppose I could send each one an 
anonymous dollar. But that would cost Reader's 
Digest many hundreds of dollars." 

"So what?" 

"Well, so so all right, I guess," replied Patric, 
still thinking. "Say, Wally ! 

"Let's wait until the survey is over and the stories 
published in the magazine. Then let's write a grateful 
letter to each honest guywhether he makes a charge 
or not and send him a complimentary subscription to 
The Reader's Digest" 

"Swell!" said Wally. 

"I'll bet," he added, "all of Wll renew it!" 

How many actually did renew, the authors of this 
book do not know. But we found that a surprising 
number were already subscribers, and merely had 
their subscriptions extended thereby. 

We know, too, that there were repercussions both 
heartening and sad. Some honest mechanics were 
promoted with pay raises by honest bosses. 

At the Mayflower Garage in Los Angeles at mail- 
time one morning the boss hurried out on the service 



8 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

floor, beaming, with a letter in his hand signed "De- 
Witt Wallace." He gave our mechanic the day off. 
The mechanic happily went out to the beach for the 
first time in years, passed the honesty-earned holiday 
lolling in warm sands beneath a sunny California sky 
and was so badly sunburned that he couldn't work 
for weeks ! 

Television repairmen we did not survey separate- 
ly. First, television hadn't become universal. Second, 
the same shops repair both radio and television sets. 

Following somewhat the pattern we developed, 
many magazines have surveyed many other service 
fields. Recently, one of them investigated a large 
number of television repair shops, with findings akin 
to those of our radio survey. 

As a new wrinkle, a skilled television man went 
from shop to shop "seeking work." Real television 
servicemen were so scarce that he never had to prove 
his skill, seldom show his tools. The first question was 
always: "Have you a car, so you can bring in the 
sets?" If he had, he was hired. 

Automobiles and radios, watches and typewriters, 
electric irons and vacuum cleaners and such things 
cost more today than they did a few years ago, despite 
much technical progress in manufacturing methods. 
Television sets cost more than they ought to. Each 
dollar used to produced them, all along the line, is 
split by taxes into a fraction of its former self. Most 
Americans cannot afford new models when the old 
cease to function properly. Wars come, manufacture 
is suspended. Americans must get along with the old. 



INTRODUCTION 9 

Under those circumstances, the public ought to 
deal wisely with the repairman, and the repairman 
capably and fairly with his public. 

The "capably" is far more important than the 
"fairly." If the repairman gyps his customer out of 
a dollar or two on a simple overcharge, that's that; 
it isn't admirable, but it isn't serious. But if he says he 
has repaired a car, asserts that he has packed the 
wheel bearings and checked the brake fluid when he 
has not, then he sends the motorist out on the road 
with confidence in a car that does not deserve it. 
Worse, he lays that car open to danger of serious 
further damage, even disablement. 

Pursue the chain of events from factory-to-scrap- 
heap where most cars land too soon. 

When an automobile gives its owner repeated 
trouble, he trades it in. The second owner has more 
trouble, and the third, still more. The "blue book" 
value of the car grows less and less, falling much 
faster than should be the real worth of that piece of 
rolling stock. 

Finally, in six or eight years, another automobile 
is in the junk yard. It should still be a fine machine, 
which might even yet have been serving its original 
owner. 

There was a time when owners of "old model" 
automobiles, especially well-cared-for, were laughed 
at. But today these cars of ancient vintage are in 
great demand, are driven pridefully, and are often 
worth more money if old enough than new ones of 
the same make. America has many really exclusive 



10 REPAIRMEN MAY GYP YOU 

automobile clubs whose members, much looked-up-to, 
photographed constantly, travel widely in their care- 
fully-serviced automobiles of yesteryear. 

The early-day car that survived yesterday's roads 
will run anywhere on today's highways. 

In calling the American motor car a "fine ma- 
chine," we make a gross understatement. The product 
of America's automotive industry is truly one of the 
brightest achievements of a race of men who became 
creative by being free. Not only does it do to virtual 
perfection the job for which it was built, but it func- 
tions with an absolute minimum of trouble. It is by 
far the costliest and most intricate piece of machinery 
ever entrusted to the average man ; yet, left alone and 
provided with its few simple needs, it performs its 
many highly complex functions day in and day out, 
summer and winter, whether driven by a skilled me- 
chanic or by an elderly lady who could not distinguish 
between a hydramatic transmission and a carburetor. 

Further to romance about this miraculous crea- 
tureit does more than merely carry us : it warms us 
in winter; it cools us in summer; it gives us light at 
night ; it magic-carpets the parlor sofa into the roman- 
tically moonlight countryside ; it brings us the music 
of the moment and the news of the world even as it 
happens. 

The automobile is incomparably our best servant 
and our most satisfactory inanimate friend. Some- 
times, indeed, it seems not at all inanimate. In truth, 
the gypping of this machine is far more despicable 
than is the gypping of its owner. 



GRANDPAS FIRST AiONIYCAR 




Pat's Letters 




CRITICS OF THE RESULTS of our survey have 
charged that we deliberately set out to find re- 
pairmen crooked, and that in order to insure that 
finding we selected an unusual car, the Lincoln 
Zephyr, and devised a mean and unusual ail- 
ment. 

Precisely the opposite is true. DeWitt Wallace 
told us to make a survey and get the facts. Then 
our reasoning proceeded this way: 



12 



PAT'S LETTERS 13 

In order to test a large number of garages we 
would have to present to each of them a simple, 
clear-cut problem in repair. We would have to 
present exactly the same job to every garage. It 
was just like an examination in mathematics : we 
wanted to ask each repairman a mechanical 
equivalent of the problem "how much is two 
times two?" If he should reply "Five," it would 
be because he would profit thereby. 

The first requirement was a sort of grand-aver- 
age car, we thought. Not a Rolls-Royce nor an 
Isotta-Fraschini, nor a Ford. After some study 
we selected a 1939 Buick sedan and bought it 
secondhand. We bought it from a known and 
reliable authorized Buick dealer for $600. The 
dealer, whom we trusted, assured us the car was 
in excellent condition, not to be improved upon. 

With that Buick, in December of 1940, we 
made a test survey. In subsequent findings we 
made no use of the discoveries collected with the 
Buick. At that time we were not starting the 
actual survey itself, we were prospecting around 
to find just how to conduct the survey. Both au- 
thors of this book drove the Buick to garages in 
New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecti- 



14 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

cut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. 
John Patric, whom Mr. Wallace asked to do 
the eventual traveling when the survey should 
start and who had done prior work for the Read- 
er's Digest, managed the painstaking prelim- 
inary explorations. The story of them is best told 
in his letters to Riis. 

Bridgeport, Connecticut 
December 28 
DEAR BILL : 

Since yesterday morning I've had the Buick in six 
garages. I don't think the Buick dealer who sold you 
the car and said it was in perfect condition was quite 
truthful. There seem to be quite a few things really 
wrong with the car or at least things that could be 
fixed legitimately. However, for this preliminary test 
trip I'm letting the garagemen do pretty much what 
they like. 

The first thing they always ask is : "What seems to 
be the matter with it?" 

"It seems to run all right," I say, "but I just 
bought it last week and I'm going on a long trip with 
it. I want you to check it over and see if it needs any- 
thing to put it in first-class shape." 

Garagemen seem astonished. Why should a stran- 



PAT'S LETTERS 15 

with a New York license come in with a car 
that's running fine? They aren't used to it. Most of 
them don't know quite what to do. The cars they get 
are usually in trouble. 

Of course I'm careful to leave everything up to 
them. So most of them drive it around the block, 
come back, say, " She seems to be in pretty fair shape. 
I'd suggest only a lube job, an oil change, and a tune 
up, perhaps." 

Well, Bill, after I got the car greased once, got 
those nearly new plugs cleaned once, got the crank- 
case filled with fresh oil, I have to say that's been 
done. Then they say: "Well, then, I guess you're 
O.K.," as much as to ask: "What did you come here 
for, anyway? What's the big idea?" 

The next guy, though, a little more enterprising, 
will suggest flushing the transmission and rear end 
and filling it with "winter-grade" lubricant. But that, 
too, can be done only once, legitimately. 

I've been told that's sometimes a racket. I know 
that service stations have been known to charge for 
this job and then not do it. But to investigate it would 
mean getting under the car each time, taking a sample 
of lubricant, and testing it to be sure it was actually 
new. And once the job had been done legitimately, 
you couldn't make another test without draining out 



1 6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

the new lubricant and putting old stuff back in. 
Where'd we get the old stuff? It's usually dumped 
into the barrels of crankcase drainings. Anyhow, it 
would be a dickens of a job, and very slow. 

The only way we could spot this kind of gyppery 
would be to stay and see if it were done. Then, of 
course, it would be done though unnecessarily after 
the first time. But you couldn't blame a service-station 
man for that, because there isn't one used car in a 
hundred that wouldn't benefit to some extent from 
fresh lubricant. And how would a serviceman guess 
that this was the exception? He'd probably, if he 
were honest, drain the transmission and differential 
just on general principles, if the customer were will- 
ing, knowing that gears would last a lot longer if 
that job were done more often. 

But I'll keep on trying to find the right kind of 
test. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

Stamford, Connecticut 
December 30 

DEAR BILL : 

Same old story today. These tests don't prove 

anything except that some mechanics are good and 



PAT'S LETTERS 17 

some are not. The dealer who sold you the car said 
everything had been tuned up for you. But I met a 
most painstaking, hard-working mechanic in Bridge- 
port today. He did a lot of things that improved the 
performance of the car. He said : "If you don't mind, 
I'll drive the car home to lunch. It's my favorite 
testing route, and I know how this model ought to 
perform on it." He took a few tools with him and 
made some adjustments en route. Carburetion is cer- 
tainly better. The motor no longer stalls in traffic. 

The generator commutator was pretty bad and 
needed undercutting. The copper segments that de- 
liver current to the brushes are insulated, as you 
know, with mica. That insulation should be lower 
than the copper. Ours wasn't. The commutator was 
literally "bumpy," and that's what made the needle 
oscillate. The battery seems to be down a little, but 
the fellow thought it would charge up again. 

He worked on the car for an hour and a half and 
charged me $2.25, at the rate of $1.50 an hour. He's 
all right. He fixed a couple of uncertain light con- 
nections and did a lot of other little things. He 
rents a little shop in the corner of a big storage 
garage. 

I got talking to another customer of this man, who 
said, "He's the only mechanic in town I'll let even 



1 8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

look at my car. The chap used to be foreman of a 
big dealer garage and quit when he was reprimanded 
for refusing to gyp a woman." 

Yours, 

PAT. 

Newark, New Jersey 
January 2 
DEAR BILL : 

Before I came down here I stopped in a few places 
along the Boston Post Road. One fellow his shop 
was pretty busy tested the car and said it didn't 
need anything. He charged me fifty cents. 

The next man wasn't so busy. He was one of the 
smart salesman type. After he looked the car over 
he said : "Before you start on your long trip you need 
your valves ground and you need a new battery." 

So I said: "The fellow who sold me the car said it 
was in perfect condition, but of course / don't know. 
Will you tell me why you think it needs these things?" 

For reply the fellow tested the battery again for 
my benefit. He used a hydrometer. One cell read 
about 1175 specific gravity and the others were 
around 1275, where they should be. So I knew the 
hydrometer was O.K. I told him I'd just had the 
generator fixed and thought that that might have 



PAT'S LETTERS 19 

something to do with it. He said, "No. If that were 
the cause, all the cells would be low. 

"Your valves/' he continued, "have never been 
ground. There's never been a wrench on these stud 
nuts." He showed me then continued: "The car has 
gone at least 20,000 miles, although I think the 
speedometer doesn't register all the miles. But even 
when a motor's gone 20,000 miles it always helps to 
grind the valves." 

Fair enough, Bill, no argument there. I paid him 
for his time. 

I'm beginning to think that either all garages are 
100 per cent honest, and these things people say 
about them are wrong or due merely to carelessness 
and inefficiency; or else we've an entirely wrong 
technique. 

What would happen if we brought in a car that 
seemed to have something terribly wrong but which 
was something instantly seen by any mechanic and 
fixed in a jiffy? Would they all tell the truth? 

If garagemen have been unjustly pilloried all these 
years, that's a story, Bill. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



20 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Baltimore, Maryland 
January 3 
DEAR BILL : 

One mechanic tested the car today by driving a 
few blocks with me. Right away he said: "Wheels 
seem out of line." He got out, looked at the front 
tires, went way up ahead, and sighted along the front 
wheels toward the back wheels. u Yeah, they're out," 
he said. "I can't tell how much until I measure. But 
they're out, and it'll cost twelve bucks to line them 
up." 

Now that's a funny thing, Bill. Twenty garages, 
so far, including the ones you visited, tested that car, 
and not one of them said anything about the wheels. 
Nobody even mentioned checking the alignment 
not even that good guy in Bridgeport. And I didn't 
hit anything no rough spots in the roads and no 
curbs to get the wheels out of line. 

But didn't you say that some fellow tested the 
steering by driving the car over curbs up and over 
curbs the day you bought it? That might have 
knocked them out. I think you chaps who bought the 
car were a pair of innocents representatives of that 
great class of Americans for whom the dealers touch 
up the rusty spots, paint the motor, dress the top, 
clean the upholstery, polish the body, and say: "This 



PAT'S LETTERS 21 

car was driven just 20,000 miles by an old lady who 
never had it over thirty, who brought it in for lubri- 
cation every thousand miles without fail, and who 
sold the car because of poor health." 

Otherwise the usual thing: "We'll give her a good 
lube job, change the oil, and tune the motor." Noth- 
ing new. If work is slack, they're a little ingenious. 
If they're busy, the car seems in better shape. I al- 
ways pay them for their tests. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
January 4 
DEAR BILL: 

The wheels are out of line. 

I went to three places that specialize in wheel 
alignment. To each I said : "Please check the wheels. 
I'll pay for the test at your usual rates. But I can't 
have the job done no matter how badly I need it 
until I return to New York." 

So these fellows would have gained nothing by 
lying. The first one said: "Your wheels toe-out three 
degrees. They should toe-in one sixteenth of a de- 
gree. I can't check the camber and caster until I've 



22 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

corrected the toe-out." I paid him a dollar. To fix it 
would be $12. 

The next guy said: "The toe-out is three fifths 
inches." 

"Does that mean three degrees?" I asked. 

"No," he replied. "Toe-out is never measured in 
degrees. I've checked the camber and caster. The 
camber is reverse three fourths inches for the right 
front wheel and one fourth inches for the left front 
wheel. Also, a steering knuckle is bent." He went on 
with a lot of fancy technical explanations that weren't 
intended, I suspect, to be informative merely im- 
pressive. "I charge $1.00 for testing, but if you let 
me fix the car, we'll knock that off. Our charge is 
$8.00 for labor, $3.00 for parts." 

The third fellow had the same make of aligning 
equipment the second man had, but he didn't go into 
detail. He said: "The front end is pretty bad. I can 
fix you up for $6.50. The usual price is $12." I said 
that was pretty reasonable, and then he said: "You 
also need a motor tune up." 

"How much is that?" 

"Sixty cents per cylinder." 

Just to sound innocent, I asked which cylinders 
needed tuning. 

"The whole motor needs tuning," he said. 



PAT'S LETTERS 23 

And there's how many cylinders? Six? Then that's 
$3.60. 

But the motor doesn't need the kind of tune up 
he'd give it for $3.60. The carburetor is just right 
now. The plugs are new and clean. I know the points 
are O. K., for I watched a crack mechanic check them 
yesterday. I think this fellow just tries to sell every- 
body a "tune up." In my case he'd add $3.60 and 
$6.50 and get $10.10, or about the regular price 
for an alignment job. I've had plenty of experience in 
shops like this. 

But how can we be sure, Bill? This stuff is all 
guesses. 

I've found out little except that garages don't 
agree. They are certainly careless in checking auto- 
mobiles. No wonder people who get their cars "all 
carefully checked over" before they go on trips 
often have unexpected trouble. Answer is, the cars 
weren't checked. 

Bill, we've got to find something else. We're using 
up a lot of time, spending a lot of money, and finding 
out nothing that we didn't know before. 

I've an idea that these men are 95 per cent honest 
but just terribly careless. Maybe that's our story. Or 
maybe, as you suggest, women get gypped more 
than the men. I'll try to get hold of a good feminine 



24 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

assistant, though it would be a tough assignment for 
a woman. 

Yours, 
PAT. 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
January 6 
DEAR BILL : 

I just thought of something. 

Years ago I bummed a ride West with a crippled 
man who couldn't drive very well. On that rocky pass 
between the Imperial Valley and San Diego we came 
upon a Buick, stuck. I'd had a Buick like it and had 
done a lot of work on it. His trouble was simple. 
The high-tension wire from the coil which is held 
in place by friction had simply worked loose. I 
pushed it down and started his motor. He had no 
more trouble. 

He wrote a note on a card, gave me the card, and 
asked me to stop and see him when I reached San 
Diego. The man ran a big hotel there, Bill, and he 
insisted that I occupy a suite as his guest while I was 
there. They were the best hotel rooms I was ever in. 
The management sent up free breakfasts and the 
latest magazines. It's amazing how grateful that guy 
was. 



PAT'S LETTERS 25 

So I figure I'll pull the coil wire loose on our 
Buick. That trouble ought to be easy to find. If /, 
who am no mechanic, found it for the hotel man, any 
garageman should find it for me. 
I'll let you know how it works. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
January 8 
DEAR BILL : 

I'm glad you agree that our former procedure 
with the Buick isn't producing anything that would 
make a story. Your own preliminary tests were very 
much like mine. 

I've stalled a few times by pulling the coil wire 
out. Sometimes I'm towed in, sometimes the mechanic 
brings his tools. If I'm there, they find the trouble 
right away. Yesterday one mechanic charged me for 
"adjusting the points," which, as you know, don't 
need any adjusting. He didn't say a word about the 
wire being out of its socket. His bill read simply: 
"Repair Buick," and when I asked him to write down 
"adjust points," he got rather mad at me. 

But I find it hard, except in a case like that one, to 



26 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

be sure whether I'm gypped or not. After all, what's 

a fair charge for a tow? 

Yours, 

PAT. 

Trenton, New Jersey 
January 9 
DEAR BILL : 

I tried a lot more experiments today. 

Been trying to figure out a way so I can drive that 
Buick right up to a garage and stall it out in front, so 
there'll not be a towing charge to confuse the issue. 

So I tried pulling the coil wire almost out, running 
a string doubled through a little hole in the dash, 
and pulling the wire all the way loose with that 
string, then pulling the string back in. 

The first garage I tried, it worked swell. Except 
that the car was stalled right near the front entrance, 
so when I coasted to the entrance, I blocked it. I 
caused a lot of trouble. The mechanics were out, and 
a couple of customers and I had to push the car out 
of the way. Just then one of the mechanics came back, 
apologizing for being gone. He fixed the wire, 
charged me nothing, "because you've been waiting 
so long." I felt like a heel and a chisler. 

I stalled the car by the same procedure in front 



PAT'S LETTERS 27 

of another garage, and the shop foreman looked at 
me through a fishy eye. "Those coil wires do work 
loose sometimes on rough roads," he said, looking 
significantly at the smooth street. "Funny it hap- 
pened right in front of our place." 

I think the next fellow saw the marks of the string 
on the rubber insulation of the wire. But he didn't 
say anything. Nor did he overcharge. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

January 10 
DEAR BILL : 

If only I could get that wire back again without 
lifting the hood and making myself conspicuous I Or 
do something so that if I visit a garage that can't 
take care of me I can drive away again. It's got to 
be some trouble that can be created over and over 
again without damage because we've got to cover 
the whole country on this thing if we get a formula 
that proves anything. You can put a spark-plug wire 
back without tools, and so there'd be no tool marks 
showing, even after 50 tests. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



28 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
January 12 
DEAR BILL: 

Having the damnedest luck. Somebody broke into 
the Buick last night and stole all my stuff. 

I had parked on Walnut Street, right in the heart 
of Philadelphia, for a half-hour. When I came back, 
somebody had jimmied open one of the "no-draft n 
ventilators then apparently reached down with a 
wire and opened the door. 

It's quite a loss all my baggage, my typewriter 
(which is why I'm writing this letter with a pen at 
2 A.M.), my two fine cameras from National Geo- 
graphic days, and all the rest of my photographic 
equipment including flash guns, filters, light meters, 
etc. They took some of my clothes, including all my 
clean shirts. 

I found a cop who seemed a little bored by the 
whole thing. He sent me over to the 2nd Detective 
Division, where I wrote out an inventory for De- 
tective Tom Donahue to send out over the teletype. 
The loss comes to around $400. 

I've just got to get another car for this survey and 
hand pick it very carefully. First, I'll have to find 
a make and model that can be decommissioned easily, 
hundreds of times, without showing any marks. It 



PAT'S LETTERS 29 

must be something that still lets the car run but 
very badly indeed. And yet it must be something that 
will cause no damage to the motor. 

IVe thought of loosening distributor wires, but if 
they weren't entirely removed, they'd still make con- 
tact. And anyway, a car that's missing on a cylinder 
or two would gallop and jerk; and if driven hun- 
dreds of miles that way might not be free of damage. 

It's going to be a headache, Bill. Sometimes I wish 
I'd never undertaken this job. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Pleasantville, New York 
January 15 
DEAR BILL: 

After talking with Ford dealers about methods 
the Ford factory may use for checking its dealer 
service departments I heard this one : 

"A stranger with an out-of-state car came in one 
day and said his car wasn't running right. I knew 
right away his timing was retarded. I set the timing, 
and because his car wasn't very old, didn't charge 
him anything. 

U A couple of months later a factory man was in 



30 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

and said: 'Jack, we checked up on your service the 
other day. We sent a man in here with a slight diffi- 
culty, easily fixed and you'd be surprised what we 
found out about your service.' 

"I was pretty scared, for all of us slip up once in 
a while. I asked the fellow to explain, and finally he 
told me: 'You rate 100 per cent in that test. Not 
only did you set the timing quickly and accurately, 
but you didn't charge the fellow anything because his 
car wasn't very old, and you wanted him, you said, 
to think well of it. More than that, you explained 
carefully just what had happened and told him what 
to do if it ever happened again. If everybody was 
like that, Jack, we'd have a lot fewer service head- 
aches.' " 

So you see, Bill? If an outfit like Ford finds it 
necessary to send checkers out to keep dealer service 
efficient and honest, there must be a reason for it. 
Suppose a fellow brought another make of car to a 
dealer because his garage happened to be nearest? 
Would the dealer be more or less honest with the 
owner of a make of car other than the one he sold? 

We're on the right track now. Something easier to 
fix than a car out of timing : less hoary than the loose 
spark-plug wire. I'll find it. 

Harry Wilcox at the Digest suggested that we 



PAT'S LETTERS 31 

could puncture the diaphragm of the fuel pump. But 
would that be easy to find? Could that happen acci- 
dentally? The worst drawback is that every time we 
made a test, we'd have to remove the fuel pump, take 
it apart, and install a punctured diaphragm. That 
would take time. 

I've thought of disconnecting a gas line or an air 
line. But again the men who tightened it up would 
certainly put tool marks on the fittings, and this 
would mean installing new lines and new fittings af- 
ter each test or two. 

I looked at Plymouths, Dodges, Chryslers, Fords, 
Chevrolets, Nashes, LaSalles but the LaSalle is 
getting into too much money. We've got to appear to 
be in the financial position of the average man, who 
shouldn't be gypped out of $3.00 by a repairman 
if repairmen are gyps. 

The Ford dealers in Mt. Kisco are friends of 
Harry Wilcox. He took them into our confidence. I 
tried, with their shop foreman, to find a way of mak- 
ing a Ford or a Mercury run badly. We could throw 
the timing out, of course, but that's a legitimate re- 
pair operation. And it's one that Ford dealers are 
more used to handling. Moreover, there isn't much 
latitude to that adjustment, so that the trouble 
wouldn't seem serious enough. Some shops mightn't 



32 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

know exactly where to set the timing if they didn't 
specialize on Fords. 

I asked about the old standby, removing a spark- 
plug wire. The foreman said: "That's an old one. 
The Ford factory is always testing its service depart- 
ments. TheyVe been using that spark-wire trick for 
years. We're all on to it now." 

That proves we're on the right track. If the Ford 
Motor Company is quietly checking its dealers, there 
must be some skulduggery. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Pleasantville, New York 
January 16 
DEAR BILL : 

I've found it. 

The Lincoln Zephyr has two coils, just as my old 
'32 Lincoln has. These coils are right behind the fan, 
cast as one unit in a plastic case. Two wires run from 
the coils one from each. I went over to Mt. Kisco 
and borrowed a new Zephyr from the Ford dealer. 
It has plenty of pep. Then I stopped, took off a coil 
wire and say! The car still runs, but gosh how it 
runs ! Smooth enough, but no power at all. Scarcely 



PAT'S LETTERS 33 

go over thirty wide open. Won't climb even a little 
hill except in low. Won't pass the old gravel trucks 
carrying stuff for the Bedford overpass. 

If a man didn't know the wire was off he might 
think anything was wrong. Might think the clutch 
was slipping for a minute. Might think the brakes 
were dragging. Might think one set of points weren't 
breaking. Might think half the plugs were fouled, 
or the carburetor was bad. He just wouldn't know. 
But once you lift the hood, that wire sticks out like 
a bandage on a chorine's knee. There are so few 
exposed wires under the Zephyr hood, Bill fewer 
than in most motors, it seems. Almost all the wires 
are enclosed, except this set. 

Even a person that didn't know a thing about an 
automobile engine would know the wire ought to 
be connected to the post just as though a reading 
lamp didn't work because it wasn't plugged in. 

They asked me at the Digest if I wanted a new 
Zephyr, but I'm not sure. If we did get gypped out 
on the road, driving a new and expensive car like 
that, some readers might say: "Oh, the investigators 
probably looked like millionaires. / don't. / wouldn't 
get gypped not like that." 

I should think around $600 worth of automobile 
is about right about average. 



34 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Before I do anything about buying another car, 
Bill, I'm going to try the disconnected coil-wire trick 
with my old Lincoln. It won't be as good a test, be- 
cause anyone who looks under my hood will know, 
from all the gadgets I've got, that I am at least 
mechanically minded. 

For example, I've got an extra generator driven 
off an overlong belt, so I can build up the batteries 
in my trailer and not have to use the trailer lighting 
plant I built out of a lawnmower engine and a 
starter generator. IVe put in extra gas tanks, con- 
trolled by a lever on the dash, so I can use cheap 
fuel for running in open country and high-test gas 
for starting and hill-climbing. I've got rigged up a 
system whereby the motor heats water in the trailer 
tanks for the trailer shower. Hose lines run back 
to the trailer, carrying hot water back and bringing 
up cold until the trailer tanks are full of hot water. 
I get pressure to the shower head by starting up an 
old Cadillac power air pump, which I drive with an 
old starter motor through a bicycle chain. The same 
starter motor runs a suction pump so that if my 
trailer is parked by a stream or lake I can turn it 
on and suck my tanks full of water until the car 
radiator overflows. 

One look at these contraptions such of them as 



PAT'S LETTERS -35 

are on the old Lincoln and the mechanics I en- 
counter will wonder why I'm stumped by a discon- 
nected wire. So it is not a perfect test, but I'll try it. 
I'll let you know how I come out. Think I'll try 
it on the Boston Post Road again. It's pretty cold. 
Don't know where I'll wait while the car is being 
"fixed." 

Yours, 

PAT. 



TELEGRAM 

GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT, 1 1 150 P.M. 
JANUARY 1 6 

ROGER WILLIAM RIIS 
522 5TH AVENUE 
NEW YORK CITY 

TESTED NINE GARAGES ON POST ROAD UP TILL 
ELEVEN TONIGHT STOP TWO HONEST STOP SEVEN 
GYPS STOP ALL REPLACED COIL WIRE STOP TWO TOLD 
TRUTH, CHARGING FIFTY CENTS AND FORTY CENTS 
STOP OF THE OTHERS, ONE SAID "HALF YOUR CAR- 
BURETOR CLOGGED TWO-FIFTY," ANOTHER SAID: 
"MOTOR OUT OF TIME STOP TOUGH JOB STOP TWO 
SEVENTY-FIVE" STOP ONE SAID "POINTS TOO FAR 



36 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

APART, NOT MAKING CONTACT' 7 STOP NEXT ONE 
SAID : "POINTS TOO CLOSE TOGETHER, NOT BREAK- 
ING CONTACT" STOP ONE SAID HE "CLEANED SPARK 
PLUGS" BUT DIDN'T TOUCH THEM STOP HONEST 
ONES WERE RUSSIAN JEW IN PORT CHESTER, COL- 
ORED MAN AT GARAGE NEAR GREENWICH STATION 
STOP WRITING DETAILS STOP BUT THIS FORMULA 
PERFECT STOP WILL LOOK FOR ZEPHYR IF YOU AP- 
PROVE STOP 

JOHN PATRIC 



Nearly two months had now gone into the 
search for the ideal test. The importance of this 
preliminary study lies in what we learned from 
it. We learned, first of all, that we had to have 
absolute, firsthand knowledge that the test car 
was in unquestionable condition. We could not 
take the word of anyone else for that, we had to 
know, ourselves. We learned, secondly, that we 
had to devise a neat, clean-cut problem for all 
servicemen, and that it had to be such as would 
permit driving the car into a garage and driving 
it away again if the garage were too busy to re- 



PAT'S LETTERS 37 

pair it. Lastly, and somewhat academically, it 
seemed best to find a trouble which would be 
quickly obvious to any man, skilled or unskilled, 
who might lift the car's hood, a trouble which 
literally cried aloud to be spotted and repaired. 
Having proceeded by slow trial and error to 
this point we had decided that the 1939 Lincoln 
Zephyr was the car we wanted. Patric found one 
in New York. At the same time we found the ex- 
pert mechanic we needed to condition the car 
under our eyes. 



New York City 
January 21 
DEAR BILL : 

Harry Wilcox tells me that there's one really first- 
class mechanic that he knows about in New York. 
The fellow does a lot of work for the Reader's Di- 
gest and has always been honest, thorough, and in- 
dustrious. His name is Phil Confalone, and he rents 
space for a modest shop at the Palisades View Ga- 
rage, at 2OOth Street just where you make the last 
turn off from the Hudson River Parkway before hit- 
ting the toll bridge. 

Although W. B. Levin, salesman for the Ford 



38 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Motor Sales on Broadway, where they have that 
Zephyr, assured me that the car was in mighty fine 
mechanical condition, he willingly went with me to 
Phil Confalone's place. 

"Confalone," by the way, is pronounced to rhyme 
with "baloney," although he's remarkably free of it. 
We took the Zephyr for a tryout. I wanted to be sure 
there wasn't anything basically wrong with the car, 
that it hadn't been in a wreck and then repaired. 

Phil Confalone thinks, as I do, that the car has 
run maybe 25,000 miles. It doesn't run too well. Phil 
thought water was leaking into the crankcase. We 
told Levin that if he'd take the car back to his shop 
and pull the heads, we'd buy the car. All this pro- 
viding he'd give us new heads if the old ones were 
corroded plus gaskets and other parts necessary to 
correct this trouble. 

It took them two hours to get the head off the 
left bank. Sure enough, the aluminum was eaten 
away to such an extent that the gasket wouldn't hold. 

"All right," said Levin, "we'll give you a new 
head." 

"Let's look at the other one first," I said. 

"But it doesn't leak on the other side," he pro- 
tested. 

"If one head's corroded, the other is bound to 



PAT'S LETTERS 39 

be," said Phil. "It's probably ready to start leaking 
any time. Mr. Patric doesn't want any trouble with 
this car once we get it fixed." 

So they pulled off the other head, and sure enough 
it was corroded too. Phil thinks the former owner 
used some corrosive anti-freeze in his radiator. The 
aluminum was decayed, sort of, for nearly a quarter 
of an inch in places. 

But the rest of the car seems to be in good shape. 
Neither Phil nor I can find anything wrong that new 
parts won't correct. So I agreed to buy the car for 
$625 cash, provided they would supply without extra 
charge the required cylinder heads, etc. about $40 
worth of parts. They agreed to this, then asked me 
to sign a contract with about fifteen hundred words 
of fine print. 

I sat back at Levin's desk and started to read. 
The type was so darned small that it was slow work. 
Levin said: "That's a formality. You don't have to 
read all that. Nobody does." 

I got rather mad at that remark. I don't like these 
contracts that are drawn up by skilled lawyers in such 
detail that the customer hasn't got a chance. 

Levin waited impatiently while I read on and on. 
"It says here," I remarked, "that no oral promises 
not specifically set down herein are binding. It says 



40 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

that I must take delivery at your door, whereas I've 
specified delivery in Pleasantville." 

U A11 that will be taken care of," said Levin. 

I asked him to "type out a new contract, including 
these items, since nothing oral is binding." I knew 
it was perfectly absurd to ask their typists to write 
out all that rigmarole, but I wanted to see what 
they'd do. In the end I got first a notation on a 
scratch-pad then a formal promise, written on the 
firm's letterhead and signed by the sales manager, 
agreeing to all the "oral promises." 

Then I signed the contract. 

Levin sighed with relief. Then, getting a little con- 
fidential after the others had gone and only Phil 
and I were at his desk, he said : 

u Patric, you're one of the toughest customers I've 
had in a long time. Most people come in, look at a 
car on the floor, see that it's clean, take our word 
for it that it's all right, and sign the contract without 
reading it. If everybody were like you, my job would 
be hell. But I'll tell you, people would have less com- 
plaint about the used cars they buy. Thank heaven 
more people aren't like you but they'd be better 
off if they were." 

I felt pleased. I didn't tell Levin why I was being 
so particular. He was a good guy. 



PAT'S LETTERS 41 

I'm going down now and look for a good assistant 
accomplice, as she'll eventually be called. I'm 
sure you're right in thinking that women get gypped 
more than men. I've got some employment agencies 
looking for the right person. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

New York City 
January 23 
DEAR BILL : 

I'm having a dickens of a time finding an assistant 
to go with me on that trip. Most of the girls who'd 
like to take a jaunt like that think it would be a pic- 
nic; they think I want a playmate I gather when I 
talk to them. A couple of girls at one agency were 
sincere enough, but they got cold feet when I talked 
about the extent of the survey. The idea of traveling 
about the entire country with a strange man, visiting 
a different city every day, appalls them. I'm handi- 
capped, too, by my inability to describe just what the 
work will be. 

If I explained the whole project in detail, word 
of it might leak out to the trade journals, and our 
job would be ruined. Too many people know of the 
thing already. So some possible helpers I might get 



42 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

are understandably suspicious when I can't go into 
detail. Of course I don't mention the Reader's Di- 
gest. Time enough for that when a girl gets started 
on the job. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

New York City 
January 25 
DEAR BILL : 

Phil's got the motor torn down. 

Under normal circumstances I think we could 
grind the valves, clean the plugs, adjust the points, 
check the carburetor, install those new heads, adjust 
the brakes, and the car would be all right. 

But I won't leave anything to chance. I told Phil 
to buy everything new that he could possibly replace 
on that motor. Specifically, I asked him to get a new 
carburetor, new generator, new distributor, new fuel 
pump, new gas lines, new plugs, new valves, new fan 
belt besides, of course, such things as new rings and 
new brake lining. 

He protests vigorously. 

"But Mr. Patric," he says, "there's not a thing 
wrong with this fuel pump. It's in fine shape. It will 
last 50,000 miles." 



PAT'S LETTERS 43 

"Never mind, Phil," I tell him. "Suppose you 
know and I know that the fuel pump is all right. 
Then suppose the first garage we visit tells us the 
fuel pump is bad. Who is right? We know we are, 
but how could we prove it? It's just the word of one 
mechanic against another. But suppose we've in- 
stalled a brand-new fuel pump. Suppose I've watched 
you take it out of the Ford factory carton and put it 
on. Then suppose a mechanic blames the trouble on 
the fuel pump. Won't it be convincing to say the fuel 
pump is new?" 

So Phil buys a fuel pump. 

When we come to the carburetor it's the same 
thing all over again. "There's nothing wrong with 
this carburetor, Mr. Patric," he says. "This carbure- 
tor is perfect. A new one wouldn't be any better." 

So I repeat what I said before, "Phil, Harry Wil- 
cox says you're absolutely O.K. And I know you're 
efficient by watching you work. But how about our 
readers in Snohomish, Washington? Will they know 
how good a mechanic you are? No, Phil. New car- 
buretor. New everything. No matter how good the 
old one is. You just take everything off that motor 
you can get off; buy new stuff. Let me see you open 
the cartons and install it. Let me see the old stuff. 
There's got to be no question whatever about the 



44 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

condition of this car! They'll accuse us of all sorts 
of things, but this automobile is going to be in such 
fine shape, and maintained so carefully, that I hope 
nothing really goes wrong on the whole trip." 

Phil says that by running sometimes with only 
half a motor we'll dilute the oil with raw gas as 
happens when there's excessive choking. I told him, 
"We'll change the oil every 500 miles if necessary." 
He agrees that this is the answer. 

I still haven't found my accomplice. Gibbs had a 
girl who wanted the job very badly, but she's running 
away from a barren love affair and that won't do. 
There was another young woman who seemed very 
capable, so I took her out to lunch and got talking 
to her about petty gyppery. She feels that it's all 
right. "People expect it," she says. It doesn't make 
her mad at all. She doesn't have enough interest, I'm 
afraid, to carry her along when the going gets tough. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

January 26 
DEAR BILL : 

I've found a gal who might be just the person 
we're looking for. She's an old friend of the Leo- 



PAT'S LETTERS 45 

polds a family I've known for years. She's maybe 
thirty-eight and the daughter of an honest old coun- 
try blacksmith and wheelwright. She has a brother 
who's a machinist in the Philadelphia Navy Yard 
and another brother who's a foreman at the Glenn 
L. Martin factory in Baltimore. 

She's grown up around mechanics and tools and 
has had several cars of her own. Her name, before 
she was married, was Lioy May Hoke "Lioy" is 
pronounced like u Loy" in "Myrna Loy." Then she 
married a dental surgeon, Paul Schock, on the faculty 
of the University of Pennsylvania. For many years 
she has been a designer and decorator under the pro- 
fessional name of Lioy May, which is the way her 
cards and letterheads are printed. 

During the World's Fair she worked for General 
Electric in their television department, because of 
her knowledge of colors and fabrics. From Jay Leo- 
pold and others I learn that she's strictly honest and 
extremely industrious. She can't type but she works. 
Nobody who isn't willing to work fifteen or sixteen 
hours a day could handle it. It's going to be tough. 

She's coming up to see you. I've told her that only 
if you approve is she hired. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



46 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Pleasantville, New York 
January 28 
DEAR BILL: 

Stopped off at Phil's garage again to see the 
Zephyr. He says the brakes are all right for a long 
time yet, but I tell him to put on new lining and re- 
place everything he can. I don't know if some me- 
chanic may tell us we're losing power because our 
brakes are dragging, but he might. So I want the 
brakes just right. 

But Phil just wouldn't put in a new clutch. He says, 
"There isn't the slightest possibility of any mechanic, 
however stupid or however crooked, diagnosing our 
disconnected coil wire as a bad clutch." We looked 
the clutch over and gave it some tests, and of course 
he's right. 

The Zephyr I've named it Lorelei because she'll 
be a siren to lure the gyps is coming along. We put 
in new valves and rings. You'd think Phil was recon- 
ditioning an airplane motor for a flight across the 
Pacific! I've been going with him to buy the new 
parts, just so I can report that I saw them go in. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



PAT'S LETTERS 47 

Pleasantville, New York 
February 14 
DEAR BILL: 

I'm about ready to start. For the tests on other 
things beside the car we've got the three radios and 
the three watches, and I bought a GE vacuum 
cleaner from Macy's and an electric iron. We're 
about set for those repairmen too. 

Think I'll take my dictaphone along on the trip, 
Bill, and while my fellow stooge is driving I'll give 
you some of our adventures orally. Just send you the 
records. I'll leave the transcribing machine in your 
office, and all you'll have to do is cock your feet up 
on the desk in that comfortable office of yours and 
listen to the plaints of the footsore investigators. 

I'm going to send you the reports on different color 
paper yellow for the car, pink for the radio, blue 
for the watches, green for the typewriter, goldenrod 
for the iron, and salmon for the vacuum. It may 
sound silly, but you just wait until the reports pile in 
it'll be easy to separate 'em. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



48 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Pleasantville, New York 
February 20 
DEAR BILL: 

We've just licked a little technical problem, the 
kind that shows how darned careful weVe got to be 
about details. 

The wire we are going to disconnect has a ring, or 
O-shaped, terminal that drops down over a long post 
of brass. To remove the wire, we would have to take 
the holding nut all the way off which could really 
not happen by itself. That might make the service- 
man suspicious. Further, he might easily mess up the 
threads if he didn't have the right nut to replace the 
missing one. For the ring-shaped terminal we have 
substituted a U-shaped terminal, and all we now have 
to do is loosen the nut a turn or so and slip the wire 
backward off its post. The wire might easily do that 
by itself from the fan blast. Both types of terminal 
are common on cars, so our U-shaped job won't cre- 
ate any suspicion or comment. 

I bought one hundred extra nuts to take with us, 
so that as fast as ours show damage we can install 
new ones. 

The motor certainly looks clean for a three-year- 
old car. So I've bought a little fly spray gun and 
filled it with kerosene. When Phil's finished I'll spray 



PAT'S LETTERS 49 

the motor lightly with kerosene and then blow a little 
dust through the radiator. I want the car to look as 
if it's gone a few hundred miles since it's been out of 
the shop. 

Yours, 

PAT. 

New York City 
February 23 
DEAR BILL: 

Called your office, but you were out. 

I've been driving the Zephyr. Betty Jones drove 
it to the bank in Pleasantville and back. I let her 
drive it first in normal condition. She said it ran fine. 
Then I had her stop, and I removed the coil wire. 
Then she drove it again. 

"What did you do to the car to make it run that 
way? It's simply terrible," she said. 

"All right, I'll lift the hood, and you look. See if 
you can see anything wrong." 

Of course she pointed to the wire right away. 
Anybody, even an unmechanical girl, could see it. 

I had Harry Harper drive it a ways. He, too, was 
amazed at the simplicity of the project and at the 
fine condition of the old car. "You sure picked some- 
thing simple," he said. 



50 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Harry had a good idea. He suggested joining the 
automobile club of New York. I think I will. Lioy 
May's coming up from Philadelphia day after to- 
morrow. I'm going to send her to New England for 
a few days, trying all sorts of garages, and while 
she's gone I'll have a talk with the A.A.A. 

DeWitt Wallace thinks "the woman ought to 
make most of the car checks." Too, he insists that 
we pay every mechanic something, so as not to steal 
their time. I suggested that at the end of the trip he 
send a complimentary subscription to every honest 
mechanic we'd met. He agreed. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Pleasantville, New York 
February 25 
DEAR BILL: 

Note the explanation we give the garages: "We 
just bought this car for $625. We were going to buy 
a new Ford, but on this car we saved a little over the 
price of a new Ford. So we had it completely over- 
hauled. It ran fine until just down the road a little 
ways it suddenly lost all its power. It won't run over 
thirty; it won't pass a Model T; it won't pull a hill." 



PAT'S LETTERS 51 

Then we say, "We're going out for a bite to eat" and 
leave Lorelei to the mercies of the mechanic. 

Yours, 

PAT. 



Pleasantville, New York 
February 27 
DEAR BILL: 

I was in your office, but they said you were in 
Pleasantville. 

I went in to see the A.A.A. I joined it first time 
I've ever been a member. I always figured the A.A.A. 
was for people who didn't like to change tires and 
who always had trouble. But it does an amazing lot 
for motorists. 

I couldn't tell them what I was up to, of course. 

But I did explain that I was going out on a story, 
and that sometimes I was going to pretend to be in 
trouble, "Just to get a chance to talk to people as I 
use their telephone to call the A.A.A." I've told them 
we'll pay all the bills that come in, for it wouldn't be 
fair to misuse our membership when we weren't 
really in trouble. 

Right now the only way I can think of to see 
whether the official garages are more honest than 
those which do not bear the emblem is to stall Lorelei 



52 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

on a pretty steep hill and then call the A.A.A. If they 
see the wire, fix it, and don't try to make a big job 
out of it, they're honest. And we'll pay whatever it 
costs the A.A.A. 

But I rather suspect that some of them may send 
their wreckers out, haul us in and, while the A.A.A. 
pays (supposedly for the towing) they might run 
up a wholly phony shop charge against us. I hope 
not. It would be a fine and constructive thing if we 
could report that A.A.A. garages are truthful, re- 
liable, and honest. 

We ought to leave for good about next week. 

Yours, 

PAT. 




"Rube Goldberg Machines," we called them. Efficient and modern 
pieces of testing apparatus they may be, as their makers claim. But not 
once in our entire survey were they used by a mechanic for an honest 
diagnosis of our own "trouble;" they were always used to back up a 
crooked explanation of wholly imaginary mechanical defects. We felt 
them to be, primarily, "merchandising machines," not "essential tools." 



** Rely on the New Deal 
You'll get a Square Deal' 

Telephone Exchange 67000 
futt opposite the Post Office 



NEW DEAL GARAGE 

Established 1032 

EXPERT MECHANICS ON ALL MAKES OF CARS 

TUNE-UP JOBS A SPECIALTY - STORAGE 

Equipped with Modern Motor Testers 



T.in 



May 



^aphyr Qoupe) 



New York License 



Overhaul, Clean & Adjust Carburetor 

Parts & Labor 

New Wiring & Distributor Points 
Tune Up Motor 



State Unemployment Tax (Parts) 
Total 





Automobiles 




THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE today is the finest 
manufactured product of our nation. Its makers 
have put into it astounding values values in re- 
liability, sturdiness, and comfort. It gives a mini- 
mum of trouble. It is so well made that many 
drivers never even have to look under the hood. 
Yet, because of this, if something does go wrong, 
service stations and garages are able to take as- 
tounding values out of it. 

Three out of five times our investigating mo- 
ss 



54 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

torists stopping for repairs at a strange garage 
'were gypped. Three out of five garagemen over- 
charged, lied, invented unnecessary work, or 
charged for work not done, for parts not needed, 
for parts not installed. 

That is what we found on a five months' survey 
that, when finally completed, covered 19,900 
miles up and down and back and forth across the 
United States, from New England to Florida, 
from coast to coast. To get a true and fair sam- 
pling of repairmen throughout the country we 
stopped at every kind of garage and service sta- 
tion dealer agencies, independent service sta- 
tions, hotel garages, repair shops. The results of 
our sampling allow but one conclusion: that the 
automobile servicing and repair business of the 
United States does not give its customers a square 
deal. 

Our two investigators submitted their Lincoln 
Zephyr coupe to 347 service stations and ga- 
rages in all parts of the country. This automobile 
had been purchased secondhand for $625, which 
we thought the price of an average reader's car. 

The machine looked well traveled but was in 
as perfect mechanical condition as it is possible 



AUTOMOBILES 55 

for a man-made machine to be. Before the jour- 
ney began, remember, the car was completely 
overhauled by a selected mechanic and equipped 
with new brakes, valves, rings, pins, oil filter, 
fuel pump, carburetor, ignition coils, distributor, 
spark plugs, cylinder heads, water hoses, gas line, 
and generator. Constantly throughout the inves- 
tigation Patric, exceptionally familiar with the 
mechanism of cars, rechecked the car's condition, 
giving it still more new parts and careful preven- 
tive service in a lean-over-backwards effort to 
keep the car as nearly as possible in its original 
condition. At all times he assured himself that 
they were submitting to garagemen a car with 
which there was nothing wrong except for that 
one small but glaringly obvious defect: the dis- 
connected wire which caused the engine to op- 
erate on only six of its twelve cylinders. 

This wire was deliberately disconnected by the 
investigators themselves much as you would 
pull the plug out of an electric socket shortly 
before they drew up at each of the garages and 
service stations tested. It was the sort of simple 
maladjustment which places America's millions 
of motorists at the mercy of repairmen. 



56 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

A minority of repairmen 129 out of 347 
spotted the disconnected wire at once, told the 
investigators what was wrong, fixed it in a few 
seconds, and either asked a reasonable sum or 
made no charge at all. But a majority, 63 per 
cent, took the investigators for suckers and 
treated them accordingly. 

The Lincoln Zephyr has twelve cylinders set 
in two banks of six each, one right, one left. The 
hood opens from the front; just under the point 
of the hood are the ignition coils. One feeds the 
right bank of cylinders, the other the left bank. 
Disconnect one of the wires leading to either coil 
and you cut off six cylinders. The car will run on 
the other six, but it is a feeble, unhappy, crippled 
car. Stepping on the gas is like stepping on a 
pillow. 

Here is a maladjustment which stares any me- 
chanic in the face and right close to his face 
as soon as he lifts the hood. All he has to do is to 
replace the dangling wire and tighten the nut 
holding it down. If he doesn't see it within a 
few minutes, he is utterly incompetent. If he 
does see it, but says nothing about it and pretends 
to find a more profitable defect he is dishonest. 



AUTOMOBILES 57 

The investigators' procedure was this: a few 
hundred yards from a garage they would stop 
the car and disconnect the wire. As a rule Patric 
would then disappear, to take his radios and 
other properties to other shops, leaving Miss 
May, a seemingly defenseless, unmechanical 
woman, to drive up to the garage. There she 
would say she didn't understand how a car so re- 
cently overhauled could go wrong so suddenly 
and ask to have it fixed. If the mechanic did not 
say he had spotted the trouble immediately she 
would go round the corner "f or a bite to eat." On 
her return she might find the car ready, pay the 
bill always demanding an itemized receipt 
and drive away. But often she would find a me- 
chanic with a tale of serious trouble requiring 
many hours of work. 

This strange highway odyssey began in the 
East. From Miss May's notes here is the sort of 
thing that happened to the investigators in New 
York City: 

CASE 34. Brooklyn, New York. When I came 
back the mechanic was still fussing around the 
car or appeared to be. I noticed that the wire 



58 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

had been replaced, but he did not mention it. 
"What did you find wrong?" I asked. "I had 
to clean the carburetor." "But this car was just 
overhauled, and I'm sure the carburetor was 
cleaned." (Actually the carburetor is brand-new 
and weVe been buying the best grades of Ethyl 
gas.) "What would make it get dirty so soon?" 
"Oh, they get that way." And he charged $2.00 
for "cleaning" a new carburetor. 

CASE 38. New York City. When the mechanic 
came back after testing the car around the block 
he said, "I have bad news for you. Your clutch 
plate is gone. The whole assembly was red hot." 
I asked how much that would cost. He said: 
"$23.50." I said I didn't have the money with 
me; could I drive the car home in that condi- 
tion? "Yes, but the farther you drive it the more 
harm you'll do." This mechanic did not look at 
the clutch; and the clutch since then has done 
over 27,000 miles without trouble. 

In New York and vicinity only two out of six- 
teen garagemen refrained from trying to over- 
charge or swindle this woman driver. The bills 



AUTOMOBILES 59 

and estimates averaged $4.00 for a service which 
eighty-one mechanics, elsewhere in the course of 
this investigation, casually performed for noth- 
ing. New York was bad, but it was only typi- 
cal of the shame of the great cities, to which 
our investigation gives shocking testimony. In 
New York, Washington, Miami, New Orleans, 
Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco, and 
Los Angeles (which includes Hollywood), the 
gyps predominated sixty-two to twenty. Small 
towns and small garages were much more hon- 
est than large towns and elaborate garages. 
Places with less than 10,000 inhabitants proved 
twice as safe for the motorist as places over 10,- 
ooo, which overcharged or deceived in 70 per 
cent of the test cases. Villages were even safer. 
Here are a few samples of the investigators' big- 
town experiences: 

CASE 204. Chicago, Illinois. This is a very large, 
ultra-modern parking garage in the heart of the 
Loop. For customers it has a waiting salon fur- 
nished like a theater foyer or a cocktail lounge 
with a carpeted floor and modernistic furni- 
ture. I was told : "Our mechanics here don't do 



60 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

any major repairs. But we'll be glad to send it out 
for you." "No, please don't do that," I answered. 
"I'll pay for storage now, and if your mechanic 
here can't fix the car, please wait until I come 
for it in the morning, and I'll take it myself to 
your other garage." 

I called next morning for the car and found 
it had been sent to the other garage, contrary to 
my instructions. "But I told them not to take it 
there. I said I'd take it there myself if anything 
was seriously wrong." "Well, you couldn't run it 
as it was," they told me. "You needed a new coil 
and a new distributor and the motor needed 
tuning badly. Let's see, that'll come to $15.83." 
I told them that I would want the old parts and 
would come back for the car. I had to return four 
times, and it wasn't until next morning that they 
had an old coil in a box for me. It wasn't ours 
it was at least three years old. 

CASE 207. Chicago, Illinois. They say this garage 
is unique for the efficient way in which it handles 
and parks hundreds of cars. When I returned for 
the car the bill was $6.50. "What did they find 
wrong?" I asked. "I don't know. I'll call a man 



AUTOMOBILES 6 1 

who'll tell you." The superintendent came over 
and told me, u We had to remove and replace 
your distributor, clean and set your points." 
"You mean you replaced the distributor that 
was causing the trouble?" I said. "May I have 
the old one?" "We put the old one back on after 
we had cleaned and adjusted it thoroughly," he 
told me. "Also, we had to check the right bank 
and clean the plugs." Pat looked at the car later. 
You could tell the plugs hadn't even been 
handled, let alone cleaned, because the bodies of 
gnats and insects we'd picked up in the central 
Mississippi Valley still clung to them. Just to 
make sure, Pat took out the plugs and inspected 
them. They hadn't been touched. 

(A word about the numbering of the cases : the 
investigators numbered all the tests in the order 
they were made. In a number of cases the me- 
chanic wasn't in, or we were sent to another ga- 
rage, or for one reason or another no clear-cut 
test was forthcoming. These cases were not in- 
cluded in our total of 347. But for ease of check- 
ing back and rebutting critics we have retained 
the original numbering scheme, which accounts 



62 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

for the fact that some test cases have a number 

higher than 347.) 

CASE 374. San Francisco, California. A big, 
swanky city garage. I said, "If you have to send 
this work out I don't want to leave the car." "No 
ma'am, we do all our work right here," was the 
answer. But in the morning the service manager 
I had talked to wasn't there; neither was the car 
there. In spite of my specific request and their 
assurances the car had been sent out. I waited an 
hour. Finally the car was returned with this re- 
port: "Now you'll hear the bad news. You 
needed a new coil." When I asked the price, he 
figured: "The coil alone costs $7.50; the labor 
is $5.00 for installing the coil, giving your motor 
a tune up, cleaning and adjusting the carburetor, 
and checking the fuel pump. The bill is $12.73 
including the tax. You'll find your car will pull 
these hills now." Of course it would. They'd put 
the wire back on, and that was all that was 
wrong. 

As you can surmise from some of these test 
cases of all the kinds of garages, the least satis- 



AUTOMOBILES 63 

factory we found were the big garages that cater 
to hotel guests. Almost always beautiful places 
with lots of plate glass, neon signs, uniformed 
attendants, and pretty cashiers, they were usu- 
ally the places where the repairman's ethics 
hit bottom. You never see the mechanic who is 
said to have worked on your car. Many tourists 
are likely to deal only with the porter at the hotel 
door. He takes your car around to the garage, 
and during the night someone may or may not 
work on it. That man in turn sends in to his office 
a work sheet and never sees customer, accountant, 
or cashier. There is too wide a gap in responsi- 
bility between the man who does the work and 
the man who sees the customer. Here's a case in 
point we encountered in Sarasota, Florida : 

CASE 131. This garage, large and imposing, is in 
the hotel district of Sarasota. The night attend- 
ant said : "We have no mechanic on duty now. 
The dayman will get on it first thing in the morn- 
ing." But when I got there in the morning the 
day mechanic told me : "The nightman fixed this. 
He had to reset the timing." No mention of the 
dangling wire, of course. The bill was $2.00. 



64 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Another, involving a garage in the hotel dis- 
trict, this time in Topeka, Kansas : 

CASE 245. In the morning I returned to find the 
place extremely busy, with a large force of men 
at work. "What was the trouble with my car?" 
I asked. The service manager called the me- 
chanic, who said: "I cleaned your points, ad- 
justed the carburetor, and in general gave your 
motor a thorough tune up. You'll find it O.K. 
now." The bill was for $3.40. Not a word about 
the disconnected wire. Dust undisturbed on the 
motor showed clearly that not one of these jobs 
had been done. 

The lone encouraging note in our survey 
and that was a minor one was the competence, 
ability, and honesty of the men who adjusted the 
coil wire and told us what the trouble was with- 
out making extravagant claims or extravagant 
charges. Typical remarks of the honest repair- 
men constitute the sharpest possible criticism of 
the gyps. 

CASE 1 20. Bainbridge, Georgia. The owner of 
this small repair shop had apparently already 
gone to bed, but he came right down, opened his 



AUTOMOBILES 65 

shop, got out his tools, and came out to the car. 
He found the trouble immediately: "You didn't 
have nothin' wrong 'cept this wire. She'll go all 
right now. See if she don't." I asked him how 
much we owed him. "Mister, I didn't do any- 
thing worth chargin' for." "But," I said, "you'd 
gone to bed. You had to get up. That's worth 
something." "Well, I let myself in for that," he 
said. "I'm used to gettin' up. All the service-sta- 
tion men in this little town know I'll get up an' 
fix people's cars an' I'm handy, too, right here 
on the highway. I don't mind." "But how much 
do I owe you for your trouble?" "Oh, call it a 
quarter." 

CASE 161. New Orleans, Louisiana. This repair 
garage is located across the street from New Or- 
leans' huge charity hospital. Several young doc- 
tors wearing white uniforms were waiting for 
their cars. A neatly dressed, intelligent mechanic 
was chatting with them as he worked. Having 
finished with them, he lifted the hood of my car. 
"Oh oh! You're running on only one bank. 
It'll be fixed in a minute." "How much is my 
bill?" I asked. "Nothing." "You'll never get 



66 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

rich charging nothing," I said. "But this thing 
is too small to make a charge," the mechanic 
answered. 

CASE 252. Sherman, Texas. This small-city ga- 
rage is one square from Main Street. The me- 
chanic here examined the motor, tightened the 
wire, and said : "You were only getting the bene- 
fit of half your motor. A loose connection on the 
coil is all that's wrong with it. Try it, and if it 
isn't right, come back." His charge was fifty 
cents. 

(Note: In these small places you'll notice that 
we do not leave the car so often as we do in cities. 
There's a definite reason for this. In a small town 
or in the country the habit of the mechanics is 
to come right over, look at the engine immedi- 
ately, and if we start to go, they usually say : "Just 
wait a little till we see what's wrong." In the 
cities it's just the opposite. Usually, and always 
in the cases of the gyps, they encourage us to 
leave the car, and often don't even look at it until 
we're gone.) 

CASE 233. Ottawa, Iowa. A large Chevrolet 
dealer serving a farming community. "Huhl" 



AUTOMOBILES 67 

said the night manager, "I've never seen that be- 
fore. Lady, I was afraid you'd have to stay over 
until morning, but you won't. You had a coil 
wire off." He charged me twenty-five cents. 

CASE 155. Pickens, Mississippi. I saw a garage 
combined with an old blacksmith shop in a side- 
road village some distance from the main north- 
south highway through Mississippi. The black- 
smith shop was still there, in the rear, but the 
front of the place had been fixed a little neatly, 
with cheap new lumber so there was a canopy 
over the gas pump and a little office-salesroom. 
Back in the shop I could see a forge, anvil, weld- 
ing torch, and a workbench. An old blacksmith 
was at work on the forge ; a lanky mechanic stood 
at the bench. The mechanic got a light, looked at 
the motor, saw the loose wire, and put it back- 
all in about a minute. "How much?" I asked. 
"Ain't done nothin' Ah can charge you for, Mis- 
ter." I wanted to give him some business, so I 
said : "Maybe I ought to have my transmission 
and crankcase changed. Look at 'em, will you?" 
A colored boy did. He stuck out a black paw on 
which transmission lubricant had run. The me- 



68 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

chanic touched the paw, rubbed some between 
his fingers. "This's got pretty good body to it, 
Mister. I wouldn't change it yet. How's she for 
full down there?" Said the colored boy from 
underneath: "She's pretty full." But we did 
change the oil, as we often do. 

Patric had a dictaphone installed with a trans- 
former to step up the current of the automobile 
battery to the dictaphone's necessary thirty-two 
volts. 

Lioy May liked to drive. On long, lonely 
stretches of road, or during heavy rainstorms, or 
late at night, Patric would hold his dictaphone 
cradled on his knees and talk to Riis, as the mar- 
velous machine which is an automobile provided 
the power to record in wax the adventures of the 
day. 

Riis, in his New York office, would park his 
feet on the desk, put earphones over his head, and 
listen to the adventures of his two colleagues who 
called themselves "your stooges." 

Here is some of the dictaphone comment: 

Lioy May is characteristically careful about 
slowing up for curves ... I can see rough spots 



AUTOMOBILES 69 

in the road ahead. ... So this dictaphone works 
out okay. . . . 

We are driving toward Charleston. . . . It's 
raining very hard . . . road is narrow but 
smooth . . . Lioy does a good job of driving. 
. . . It's kind of fun to think about . . . sitting 
here in a warm, smoothly running auto, rolling 
through the Carolinas toward the sea, turning 
out occasionally for an old Negro plodding 
homeward in the rain . . . talking, literally 
talking, to you up there in New York. 

Teachers Convention at Charleston . . . ho- 
tels all filled. ... I pulled up in front of dis- 
reputable-looking cabin . . . sent Lioy on 
ahead. . . . Lioy said : "I can take anything you 
can, John Patric!" I took cabin, paying about 
twice as much as it was worth when it was new. 
. . . Old stove in there, wired together. . . . 
Only thing I could get for breakfast was soda 
pop and peanuts. . . . 

On way back from Key West. ... By daylight 
Saturday the trip was far too interesting to talk 
to you . . . alligator on highway . . . had a 
bowl of conch chowder . . . lime meringue pie 
at another place. . . . You can see nothing but 



70 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

ocean on either side, a ribbon of concrete ahead. 
Nothing else will be new for me . . . I've seen 
all other sections of country. An orchid tree in 
full bloom here. . . . Too many visitors and 
noisy night clubs at Key West for place to be 
languorous and restful. 

Tonight we are driving across southern Ala- 
bama. Lioy managed ten auto checks in one day 
in Miami. . . . Started early and worked late. 
. . . All the more remarkable because many 
made extravagant estimates. . . . She told many 
she was going back to hotel for the money after 
getting them to write out estimates. 

If the trade ever got wind of what we are do- 
ing they could wire ahead our license number. 
For a while in Miami we were rather fright- 
ened. Lioy had been leaving the car, going for a 
walk, driving it away, stopping, disconnecting 
the wire, then driving on to another garage. 
Shortly before noon she noticed a prowler car 
following her and parking outside garage she 
went in. When she decided she had had enough 
of this, the prowler car stopped her, and the po- 
lice wanted to know what it was all about. Of 
course she couldn't tell them. They were looking 



AUTOMOBILES 71 

for a Zephyr that had been stolen in Miami. 
They finally let her go but kept following her. 

I thought if we were taken to police head- 
quarters it might make good copy. I told her to 
tell the police nothing unless they considered us 
important enough to take before the chief. ... I 
would then ask him about their local business 
ethics. I didn't get that chance. Prowler car con- 
tinued to keep an eye on Miss May. But she 
wasn't bothered again. 

One thing I liked about Florida was the num- 
ber of benches they have in parks and around 
the town. I type my reports on the park bench. 
First I plant radio and watches with repairmen; 
then I leave one typewriter to be repaired. The 
biggest problem on this job is what to do with 
waiting time. It all can be used here in Florida. 

As we go through little towns on the road I 
have Lioy drop me on one side of the town with 
the typewriter, then I lift the hood and discon- 
nect the wire, and she drives into town alone, so 
as not to let the garagemen see a man is with her. 
I then walk through the town, stopping at the 
jeweler if there is one, and continue on down the 
highway on the other side until I come to a low 



72 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

stone wall or a high curbstone, or a fallen palm 
tree or something, whereupon I sit, hold the type- 
writer on my knees, and write reports. Literally 
thousands of motorists have seen this peculiar 
fellow miles from nowhere, apparently, sitting 
beside the road typing furiously. I am sure they 
must at times be extremely puzzled. Back in the 
office they think this is "a lovely trip." 

And from the long road through New Mexico 
and Arizona: 

I pointed out to Lioy May the restored Palace 
of the Governors of New Mexico. In one of those 
rooms General Lew Wallace, then territorial 
governor of New Mexico, wrote most of his 
book, Ben-Hur. There certainly has been a 
change in American journalism since those old 
days, Bill. Lew Wallace wrote one of the most 
successful books that has ever been published 
about the Holy Land, and without ever having 
been there to get his background straight. And 
yet he was amazingly correct. Here we are, your 
two stooges, costing the Reader's Digest thou- 
sands of dollars, trying to hit every kind of repair 



AUTOMOBILES 73 

shop in every state in the Union just to be sure 
that a short magazine story is absolutely right. 
And when we're done, how many garagemen are 
going to say: "It's all a fake"? How many are 
going to think you invented it? How many are 
going to say we went out deliberately looking for 
gyps? How often are we going to be accused of 
simply trying to be sensational? If our critics-to- 
come could only be with us for a few days on this 
investigation and see what a terrific job in psy- 
chological research this survey really is! 

But to go back to the honest repairmen, we 
were refreshed by their friendly candor. 

CASE 86. Pine Castle, Florida. Driving through 
this sleepy town, I saw a garage with a man and a 
boy busy inside. The two-hundred-pound me- 
chanic spotted the trouble in an instant; in that 
instant his eyes had swept over the motor from 
one end to the other. The fellow put the wire 
back on and tightened both nuts with the re- 
mark: "The other'n'd been off afore you-all got 
down the road much of a piece; then you 
wouldn't 'a' had no motor aye-tall. Y'had half a 
motor." I said : "Well, that's a relief. How much 



74 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

do I owe you?" "You don't owe me nuthin'. I 
don't b'lieve in charging a man a quarter every 
time I lift his hood, like some o' these fellahs do. 
Up in Georgia I built up a good business by not 
doin' that, an' I've been figurin' I'd do the same 
here. Just been here two weeks." "Well," I told 
him, "you ought to have some cigars, anyway." 
I fished out a quarter and handed it to him. "No, 
I don't want your money I thought maybe you 
just had a couple o' cigars." "Get them with this 
quarter, but please give me a little memo of it," 
I said, "partly because I keep an account of what 
I spend, partly because I want to remember 
you." "M'wife'll give y'one f'm th'other garage 
I had. Mama, give this man a receipt for a 
quarter!" 

Thus, quickly and honestly, did many repair- 
men solve the simple problem which we placed 
before them. Eighty-one of them made no charge 
at all. Others made trifling charges, probably on 
the basis this honest repairman in Portland, Ore- 
gon, used: "Well, it costs something to lift a 
hood ; the electric current on our trouble light is 
worth something; wear and tear on a screw- 



AUTOMOBILES 75 

driver is something. Suppose we say four bits?" 
With 129 repairmen giving us such fair, honest 
service as that described above, is there anything 
that can be said for the 63 per cent of all the re- 
pairmen we visited who were guilty of petty 
lying, thieving, and swindling? 

For a competent and honest mechanic only one 
diagnosis of the Lincoln Zephyr's trouble was 
possible : "Disconnected coil wire." But the in- 
vestigators received seventy-four different ex- 
planations of what was wrong. Remember this: 
when that car pulled into a garage there was not 
the least thing in the world wrong with it except 
that one dangling end of a wire. 

Here, in small type, is a list of some of the 
phony explanations we received. Could the men 
who told us these lies be trusted to service any 
car? Could they be trusted to grease an automo- 
bile without missing a few important lubrication 
points each time? Could they be trusted even to 
inflate tires correctly unless the customer were 
watching? Could they be believed when they 
recommended "ways to add years of life to your 
car"? Could you be sure they had left a crank- 
case really clean after an overhaul job? Could 



76 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

you be sure they had removed all the carbon? 
Would you be willing to swear you had actually 
needed those new valves just because they'd 
said they installed them? Would their advice be 
sound as to when to install new spark plugs? Do 
you think men with such habits of falsehood 
could be trusted to keep your interests i.e., top 
performance of your automobile at lowest main- 
tenance costs uppermost in their minds? 

Some of these were duplicated a dozen times : 

Exchange distributor; clean carburetor; new 

gaskets. 

Clean carburetor; replace several wires. 
Repair distributor. 
Points not hitting; motor required tuning; plugs 

dirty. 

Some wires off. 
Bad timing. 

Timing late ; carburetor bad. 
Locate miss ; solder coil connection. 
Blocked gas line. 

Replace diaphragm in fuel pump. 
Tune motor. 
Coil wires broken. 
Loose wires under dash. 



AUTOMOBILES 77 

Two new condensers. 

Wire loose on coil ; wire loose on condenser. 

Clean right bank jet. 

New coil; new distributor; set points; clean 
plugs ; clean right bank jet. 

Replace distributor plate and cone. 

Clean carbon from motor. 

Four wires off. 

Dirty rotor and commutator. 

Labor on : vacuum, plugs, coil, distributor, igni- 
tion, wiring. 

Set to pick up. 

Clogged carburetor; defective wire. 

Condenser loose. 

Set timing; adjust coil. 

High-speed jets clogged. 

Carburetor set wrong for high altitude. 

Install new distributor points. 

One half carburetor clogged. 

Bad fuel pump and carburetor; several loose 
wires. 

Wiring u all loose." 

Overhaul carburetor and distributor. 

Adjust float level. 

Clean main motor jets. 

Clean and adjust points. 



78 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Repair coil and distributor. 

Remove obstruction from gas line. 

Distributor short-circuited. 

Condenser short-circuited. 

Condenser bracket loose. 

Points all loose and jumbled up. 

New coil. 

Adjust breaker points. 

Repair distributor wires. 

Pep up motor and adjust carburetor. 

Repair ignition and clean carburetor. 

Piece of paper got into distributor, obstructing 

it. 

Manifold gone. 

Carburetor set to make car run on six. 
Solder broken wire. 

Clean carburetor and install new condenser. 
Change spark-plug gaps from .025 to .045. 
Valves sticking. 
New piston. 

Clean points; adjust carburetor; tune motor. 
Make right bank of cylinders fire. 
Set octane selector. 
Plugs scorched ; points burned. 
New distributor. 
Distributor short-circuited. 



AUTOMOBILES 79 

Repair and install condenser coil. 

Tighten distributor. 

Repair right distributor, wires, plugs. 

Entire ignition system loose. 

Go all over car and tighten it. 

Generator ready to fall off. 

Set carburetor to burn Mexican gas ; free sticky 

valves. 

Condenser off. 
New fuel pump. 
Water and dirt in coil. 
Distributor out of time. 
Coil wire burned in half. 
Fasten down coil and condensers. 
Splice coil wire ; clean plugs and carburetor, 
Air leaking into carburetor. 
Reset timing and carburetor. 
Clean gas line and jets. 
Gas stream and fuel bowl dirty. 
Battery bad ; need new one. 
Lock distributor tightly. 
Adjust distributor and carburetor. 
Entire ignition system gone bad. 
Overhaul clutch; install new parts. 
Complete distributor job. 
Fix timing. 



8o REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Solder wires. 

Timing late ; points not set. 
Coil wire broken ; plugs fouled. 
Clutch assembly burned up ; it was red hot. 
Broken clip. 
Coil post broken off. 
Make carburetor "alalices." 
Trouble in firing system. 
Repair sticky valves, carburetor, fuel pump, 

plugs, etc. 

Points corroded; jets clogged. 
Grind valves ; clean carburetor. 
Spark plugs clogged. 

Some of those diagnoses are lies designed to 
justify $25 charges; some are thought up to 
justify charges that might have been quite reason- 
able if accompanied by a truthful explanation; 
some, such as this which might have been added : 
"Labor and trace and replace distributor coil 
lead wire on Zephyr motor" are simply impres- 
sively phrased versions of the truth. No man who 
made a fair charge for replacing the coil wire 
ever dressed it up like that. 

But the point is this: if servicemen lie like 
that, when can they be trusted? Our critics say 



AUTOMOBILES 8 1 

that some of these men who lied for small sums 
a few told elaborate stories for as little as fifty 
cents are not dishonest, only weak. Well, would 
they turn "strong" enough to tell the customer 
the truth about his car if $20 were involved? Or 
$100? Or would they, on the contrary, keep the 
pattern of falsehood which is so often encoun- 
tered when sums of hundreds of dollars are in- 
volved in a used-car deal? 

Consider this sample in Dallas, Texas : 

CASE 250. A beautifully lithographed folder 
describes this place in superlatives and avers that 
"You pay only standard rates." I left the car and 
went away. When I returned a girl in the glassed- 
in cashier's box called the mechanic down from 
the third floor to explain the bill for $3.75. The 
mechanic said : "Your plugs were scorched and 
the points were burned." (Patric's note: what a 
silly thing to tell us! All plugs "scorch" some- 
what whenever they fire, and all points arc and 
burn whenever they break. Of course our plugs, 
like all plugs, were scorched! But that evening 
I took out a couple of plugs and examined them. 
They were not cleaned at this garage.) The me- 






82 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

chanic concluded : "Your distributor needed a 
complete overhauling." 

(Patricks note : Just a week ago we watched, in 
Milwaukee, a factory exchange distributor taken 
from a factory carton and placed in our motor. 
But I looked at the distributor after this Dallas 
case. It had not even been wiped free of the dust 
we had sprinkled on it. Had it been removed for 
overhauling, it would not have stayed dusty.) 

This case illustrates an automobile credo of 
mine : the more emphasis there is on merchandis- 
ing, the less there is on giving real value. Look at 
that beautiful, costly folder! Then look at our 
bill! Not a word about the wire! Just stick the 
wire back on, soak us $3.75, make a dumb gen- 
eralization about spark plugs, lie about the dis- 
tributor, and figure that the beautiful appearance 
of this garage will allay all suspicion and awe 
the customer. 

CASE 1 60. New Orleans, Louisiana. These fel- 
lows call themselves "carburetor and ignition 
specialists." Two men looked at our motor. One 
of them put the wire back on, tested the motor by 
running it just enough to be sure that that was all 



AUTOMOBILES 83 

the trouble then took the wire off again. "Your 
ignition has gone bad," he told me, "and the 
labor will be $4.50 plus materials." 

Dictaphone note from Patric : 

I stopped for a visit with my friend, Harold 
Bell Wright, the novelist. Usually we have been 
very careful not to divulge what we are doing, 
but I told him something about our trip. He was 
tremendously interested because the theme of his 
new novel is based upon the same thing: the 
breakdown of old-fashioned principles among 
the people of the United States. "You and Riis 
have more than a story about crooked repair- 
men," he told me. "You have a story of the break- 
down of those virtues which helped make Amer- 
ica great. I hope you don't stop but go further to 
the logical conclusions. A terrific story, one of 
the most important of our time." 

Over and over again, at the sight of that dis- 
connected wire, garagemen were suddenly smit- 
ten with blindness and greed. In Florida the 
honest repairmen were outnumbered two to one. 
Two thirds of those tested overcharged or in- 



84 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

dulged in various forms of skulduggery. Florida 
boasted of a $175,000,000 "tourist crop" last 
winter. The people who drove there must have 
contributed plenty to that total. 

The investigators swung over through New 
Orleans then sampled the Great Lakes and the 
farm states and headed southwest for New Mex- 
ico, Arizona, and the coast. Sometimes the test 
cases went beyond the depth of casual gyppery, 
they were so exasperatingly barefaced. 

CASE 178. Memphis, Tennessee. A large gen- 
eral repair garage. There were six mechanics at 
work here. One of them, large and husky, came 
over, lifted the hood, took one look at the coil 
wire, walked over to his bench, got a milk bottle 
full of something, and "tested" the fuel pump. 
While he was doing this a colored boy sauntered 
by. He approached the car, leaned against the 
front fender, and saw the disconnected coil wire. 
"See dis, boss?" he asked, pointing to the loose 
wire. The boss nodded, answering: "Yes, the 
fuel pump needs repairing," and charged $2.25 
for it. There was nothing wrong with the fuel 
pump. 



AUTOMOBILES 85 

CASE 312. Albuquerque, New Mexico. The me- 
chanic lifted the hood, spotted the loose wire at 
once, and replaced it instantly with his fingers. 
Then he got out his tools and began to remove 
the carburetor. "It's clogged up. You're getting 
only half power." "What have you done so far?" 
I asked (the "I" is Patric in this case). "Noth- 
ing." "Well, then, don't do anything. I've 
changed my mind about wanting the car fixed." 
Then the fellow reached for the wire to pull it 
off again. "Let those wires alone," I said, and 
put down the hood myself. 

Then I asked the mechanic : "Why didn't you 
tell me about this wire being off? Why do you 
pull such tricks?" "Well," answered the me- 
chanic, trying to laugh it off, "we've got to pay 
our overhead somehow." "But why steal money 
from people who trust you because you have such 
a pleasing, convincing way about you?" I asked 
him. Then he queried : "Did you know that wire 
was off when you came in?" "What do you 
think?" "Well, I'd like to know just why you did 
that." I told him: "Just to see whether or not 
you'd tell the truth to a couple of tourists a 
couple of strangers from the East who come out 



86 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

here to see your Western country and I found 
out!" At this point the mechanic became almost 
raving mad. "Why, you you you! I ought to 
. . . Why, you . . . Get the hell out of here ! I 
don't want the likes of you in my place. Get out 
of here and get out fast!" I got out, but slowly. 

By one experience we had in Las Vegas, Ne- 
vada, we found that occasionally gyp mechanics 
will get their signals crossed. 

CASE 341. When I called for the car one me- 
chanic said : "You had a wire off." I asked what 
the charge would be. "Oh, that oughtn't to be 
more than fifty cents at the most for a job like 
that," he told me. So I paid him the fifty cents. 
But when we walked over to the car there was a 
bill on the windshield : "Labor, $1.50." The fifty- 
cent mechanic was a little flustered when another 
mechanic came over and got the bill off the 
wiper. "I told this lady the bill was fifty cents 
for replacing a wire. What's this $1.50 here for?" 
Said the second mechanic : "We charge $1.00 for 
washing. You asked to have the car washed, 
didn't you?" (It had not been washed.) "No," I 
said. "Then where'd I get that idea?" said the 



AUTOMOBILES 87 

fast-thinking second mechanic. This, I found 
out, was what had happened : The first mechanic 
the fifty-cent one had just come to work here 
in Las Vegas. He'd been working in a garage in 
a smaller town. He knew what the trouble had 
been but didn't know about the bill placed under 
the windshield. He'd set a fifty-cent price from 
force of habit and probably got a good lecture 
from the second mechanic after I had left. 

When the first repairman article was pub- 
lished garagemen throughout the country set up 
a rousing cry of "It's the other fellow." Our 
original story did not give any breakdown of 
how many of each kind of garage we visited, be- 
cause we attempted to visit garages as any tourist 
in trouble would, at random, in just about the 
ratio they existed throughout the nation. But 
the dealer service stations and garages immedi- 
ately claimed that, since they hadn't been men- 
tioned by name, we surely couldn't be talking 
about them. Many dealers even whipped up ad- 
vertisements around our failure to name them as 
the guilty ones: "It's the independent stations 
they mean." But we were not making a point 



88 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

about any one type of service station or garage 
we were talking about them all, the whole auto- 
mobile repair industry of the United States. 
Here is the actual breakdown : Of the 347 total 
test cases, 88 involved agencies or dealer service 
stations; 57 per cent of these were dishonest. 
Two hundred and fifty-nine tests involved inde- 
pendents; 65 per cent of these were gyps. The 
dealer garages have a slightly better relative per- 
centage, yes, but they can hardly be termed lily- 
white ! 

The performance of the official A.A.A. ga- 
rages, when confronted with our test, was dis- 
heartening. Though these repairmen are sup- 
posedly carefully inspected and checked up on 
before they are permitted to join the A.A.A.'s 
far-flung organization of some 12,000 member 
garages, our sampling of their service stations 
showed that in twenty-six tests their percentage 
of honesty was no better than the average we 
found. 

Whether a service station is the authorized 
dealer for a particular manufacturer, whether it 
is an independent garage, or whether it has been 
approved by a motorists' organization seems to 



AUTOMOBILES 89 

make but little difference in the degree of honesty 
or otherwise with which it treats its custom- 
ers. The following cases uncover the vein of gyp- 
pery which is to be found in every phase of the 
repair industry, often in greater proportion than 
the square dealing which so many citizens have 
too long taken for granted : 

CASE 162. New Orleans, Louisiana. A large 
dealer garage that occupies a city block. An ath- 
letic, good-looking mechanic carefully put a 
cover on the seat to protect it then tested the car. 
When he had finished he said to the service man- 
ager: "Her clutch is gone." "Are you sure?" I 
asked. "Yes, that's what it is all right." Here the 
service manager chimed in: "Well, the labor for 
overhauling a clutch is $12, plus whatever parts 
are required. The parts will be extra." Of course 
there was nothing wrong with the clutch. 

CASE 109. Miami, Florida. I sat in the car, as 
I often did, and watched the mechanic surrepti- 
tiously through the crack between the hood and 
the cowl. This man saw the loose wire, connected 
it lightly, came back to where I was sitting, and 



90 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

started the motor. I could tell by the sound that 
it was hitting again on twelve cylinders, and of 
course so could he. But he took the wire off again. 
"Your distributor is gone," he diagnosed. "The 
more you drive the car the more harm you'll do. 
I'll call the Ford garage and find out how much 
a new one costs." He returned shortly to tell me 
that an exchange on the distributor would be 
$2.75 with a labor charge of a dollar more. 

CASE 256. San Antonio, Texas. A downtown 
garage with two wreckers and two badly demol- 
ished automobiles standing out in front for ad- 
vertising purposes. I felt as if I were driving 
Lorelei into a newly furnished, ultramodern 
kitchen for all the motor analyzing gadgets were 
finished in white baked enamel very fancy in- 
deed. The manager looked at Lorelei's motor 
while a delivery boy from the Ford garage 
who'd brought some parts was standing by, 
watching him. The manager had a screw driver 
in his hand, and, though hesitating, seemed about 
to fix the coil wire we had disconnected. Just 
then the boy who had been observing him went 
up the ramp with a fender he was delivering. 



AUTOMOBILES 91 

When he had gone, the manager said : "There is 
something wrong with the right distributor. 

(Patric's note: there's only one distributor 
it's in the middle.) 

u Can you leave this car and come back?" 
When I returned there was a bill on the car for 
$2.50. No details. "What was wrong?" I asked. 
"Well, we repaired the motor, checked all your 
wires and all your spark plugs." He wrote it out 
on the receipt that I requested, making one more 
elaborate itemization to cover up a simple job. 
He didn't touch the plugs. No one, in all the 
cases with spark-plug trouble as a part of the 
diagnosis, did touch the plugs. 

No districts were found quite as wedded to 
crooked dealing as New York and Miami ex- 
cept Hollywood. In Hollywood not one garage 
in five was above reproach. Here are two of the 
more flagrant cases our investigators met with in 
the cinema city : 

CASE 357. Hollywood, California. A very large 
and heavily staffed place. It takes up more than 
a city block. It has individual departments for 



92 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

various types of work. I pulled into the park- 
ing area. A well-mannered service manager 
asked what he could do for me. I told him my 
trouble the usual story which we do not vary. 
The fellow tried the car and said: "You have 
electrical trouble, not engine trouble." Then they 
drove the car over to a place next to the battery 
department and put a motor analyzer on it. The 
service manager looked directly at the coil wire 
and said : "It looks to me as if your distributor 
points are gone burnt. That is a two-hour job." 
u How much would it cost?" I asked. "About 
$4.50." "Oh dear!" The fellow continued to play 
around the engine with his analyzer. "Perhaps 
you'll only need an adjustment." Then he said : 
"You are hitting on one side of the motor; I 
doubt if the coil is gone. The Lincoln Zephyr has 
one of the best electrical systems there is, and I've 
never heard of a coil burning out. But there's 
something wrong with the other side of your 
motor too. It must be your battery that is short- 
ing. Yes, it's your battery that's shorting the dis- 
tributor. Well, the only thing for you to do is to 
buy a first-class battery that won't do that. We 
have one for $24.95 tnat w ^ correct your 



AUTOMOBILES 93 

trouble. What you need is a glass-insulated bat- 
tery that is guaranteed for four years." 

(Patricks note: This, of course, is pure, un- 
adulterated hooey about any battery shorting any 
distributor. But by being accurate about other 
things he said, the man showed that he knew one 
trick of the garageman to be meticulous about 
everything he says except where he is going to 
shove in the pitchfork. The two months' old bat- 
tery weVe been using has been giving us a hot 
spark, a quick start, and a snappy engine.) 

At this point I asked the service manager: 
"Are you sure the battery is what I need? I've 
got some traveling across the hills I've got to do." 

He said: "You mustn't use the car the way 
it is. Yes, I think I can get by all right without 
installing new points." Then he made his an- 
alyzer talk again and assured me that the $25 
battery would end all my troubles. 

Just then I tried to start the car, and it 
wouldn't start at all. The hood was down, and I 
couldn't see whether or not the other coil wire 
had been removed, but I sensed that was what 
had happened. I didn't want to lift the hood and 
expose the trick. So I said: "Haven't you got a 



94 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

cheaper battery?" "You don't want a cheaper 
battery you want one you can depend on." But 
I finally persuaded him to bring out a $12.95 
battery which was installed. I had to get the car 
running somehow. 

As they lifted the hood to install the new bat- 
tery I gave the motor a quick glance. Sure 
enough, the other coil wire had been removed, 
and both were off now. While I was making sure 
that we got our own battery back the mechanic, 
quick as a wink, went to the coil on our car and 
slipped both wires back on with his fingers. Then 
he started Lorelei's motor and said: "You re- 
member how it sounded before? Some difference 
now!" 

(Patric's note : Later we had our "old" battery 
tested. This fellow told us : "Why, this battery is 
hot! There's not a thing wrong with this battery. 
It couldn't have made a better charge. I'd take 
it back to that garage and get my money back 
right away if I were you.") 

CASE 362. Hollywood, California. This place 
is admittedly one of the country's biggest service 
stations. The service manager called the me- 



AUTOMOBILES 95 

chanic, saying: c This man specializes on Fords 
and Zephyrs." The mechanic looked at the en- 
gine, saw the wire off, then quickly looked away. 
Then he said: "Lady, your manifold is gone. 
One half of your motor isn't running. There's a 
hole burned through your manifold. To weld it 
would be $4.50 and another $4.50 for labor. If 
it's too far gone we can't weld it." Then the man- 
ager of the "mechanical department" said: "I 
wouldn't advise welding. This job will take a 
new manifold." He estimated the needed work 
at $24.60. I asked the service manager to show 
me where the hole was burned. "Down inside 
hard for you to see you wouldn't want to get all 
dirty. But here" he went to a shelf of defunct 
parts, selected a manifold, and said "see this 
hole here? Yours is burned the same place." 

As the investigators headed across country 
they found several cases where gross incompe- 
tence was liberally added to just plain gyppery. 
Here are two samples: 

CASE 167. Turrell, Arkansas. Here the village 
mechanic was utterly stupid. The search for the 



96 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

trouble in my motor consisted of standing beside 
the car, with his hand on the carburetor, alter- 
nately racing and slowing down the motor. He 
did this about half-a-dozen times. Then a pass- 
er-by came along, looked at the motor, and said : 
"There's a wire off here would that make any 
difference?" The mechanic tightened the wire 
then went back and raced the motor some more. 
"Doesn't make much," he said. 

And one case, in Seattle, Washington, the last 
one of our survey, revealed a degree of careless- 
ness that was almost incredible. This mechanic 
was crippled. 

One of the first things he did was to shut off 
the gas line by turning the valve. Then, appar- 
ently in order to sell some cheap gas, he said I 
was out of gas. I said : "But the gauge shows I've 
plenty." He thought the gauge must be broken 
and put in the gas. Then the car wouldn't run at 
all. To show me that "he knew what he was talk- 
ing about," he poured gas into the top of the 
carburetor, having taken off the air cleaner and 
the engine would, of course, run for a moment or 
two. Then he said : "I guess you need a fuel 



AUTOMOBILES 97 

pump," and started taking off everything he 
could remove from the top of the motor and 
doing it with incredible carelessness. 

I was afraid that after he was through the car 
wouldn't run at all, so I "just happened to notice" 
the loose wire. "Should that wire be off?" I asked 
innocently. "Doesn't matter," said he, replacing 
it. Then he continued to remove pipe lines. "You 
need a fuel pump all right," and he said he'd 
need a little time to get one. 

I went to a bum restaurant near by for a ham- 
burger and coffee, and when I came back he was 
waiting for me before putting back our own fuel 
pump, which he had wiped clean. He didn't 
seem to care how he worked as he put the gas line 
back on. When he had everything reassembled 
and thought I wasn't looking, he turned on the 
gas valve again. Of course the engine would run, 
but gas spouted out of a couple of connections. 
He tied string around them. I paid the bill, 
which came to $3.38 exclusive of the gas, and 
drove carefully toward the hotel. On the way I 
stopped and lifted the hood gasoline was 
streaming out of the defective connection onto 
the motor. I parked the car and got Patric. It 



98 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

was too late to get anything fixed tonight. Patric 
took a cake of hotel soap, soaked it in hot water 
until it got soft then took it to the car. He piled it 
around the connection like putty, and that 
stopped the leak. We'll have to have the sabotage 
remedied tomorrow, and not at that garage! 

One repairman, though unquestionably in- 
competent, treated our investigators honestly: 

CASE 94. Delray Beach, Florida. The young me- 
chanic in a big tire company's service station 
looked like a college boy just here for the winter. 
He looked under the hood but apparently saw 
nothing wrong there, so he jacked up the car and 
turned the wheels by hand to see "if the wheels 
are dragging." But he decided it wasn't that. 
"Lady, I'll have to drive this car to see what the 
trouble really is." So he drove the car down the 
highway. Lorelei will go fairly fast on six, and 
the fellow gave the motor all the gas it would 
take. "I guess it's the clutch," the fellow said, 
starting back. "It must be the clutch." Not want- 
ing him to tear the clutch down with Patric sit- 
ting on a park bench typing reports, I said : "No, 
I don't think it's the clutch. Because once when a 



AUTOMOBILES 99 

clutch went bad on me it didn't act this way. It 
gave out gradually and this went bad all at 



once." 



The fellow got back to his place and after 
looking again at the motor and not seeing the 
loose wire that every little side-road mechanic 
had found at once, so far, he decided he'd "have 
to take off the carburetor." That, it seemed to me, 
was enough of a survey. I asked : "Isn't this wire 
supposed to be connected to something?" The 
fellow actually appeared to be dumfounded. I 
think he was. I don't think he knew anything at 
all about automobiles. He wouldn't take any 
money from me for his trouble and he appeared 
abashed not to have noticed the wire. 

And one mechanic, at least, combined an air 
of frivolity with his gyppery: 

CASE 59. Durham, North Carolina. The me- 
chanic tried the car out after he had heard my 
usual story and said : "You certainly haven't any 
power in that motor." I stayed not far away 
there was no place handy to go and I observed 
that the mechanic found the trouble right away. 
But then he asked me to go for another road test. 



100 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

He drove the car about ten miles, most of the 
time as fast as the car and the road would permit 
around 70 m.p.h. I begged him to go slower. 
He responded: "What's the matter, gun-shy?" 
Then he went on : "What are you doing tonight? 
You're staying in Durham, aren't you?" I said I 
was married, and, to keep out of trouble, told 
him my husband was in Durham. "Couldn't you 
ditch your husband for a few hours?" he wanted 
to know. Finally we got back to the garage after 
one of the wildest rides I ever had. He said : 
"Just a distributor out of adjustment. I adjusted 
it all up for you. It'll be a dollar." 

Early in our survey we found that repairmen 
were very touchy on the matter of giving us back 
our old parts usually because they hadn't put 
in any new ones. One of our ten points of advice 
to motorists is : "Ask in advance for the return 
of any parts replaced. You will be less likely to 
be given something rescued from the scrap pile." 
We discovered this principle through the painful 
process of personal experience. Time after time, 
when we asked for the return of parts mechanics 
said they had replaced, we were met with eva- 



AUTOMOBILES IOI 

sion, deceit, and all manner of strange gyrations. 
A man in Raleigh, North Carolina, whose bill 
was $5.00 for parts and labor, said, "By 'parts' in 
this case we mean a gallon of special chemical 
we ran through your engine to free up the valves. 
You don't want the empty can, surely?" 

CASE 55. Norfolk, Virginia. This garage oc- 
cupies an entire block. The mechanic who waited 
on me found the trouble at once I could see his 
hands through the crack behind the raised hood. 
But before I knew it he had removed one of the 
condensers. I wondered what else he would take 
off and got out and asked him how long it would 
take to fix the car. "I'm sending the boy for a new 
condenser. He'll be back here in about ten min- 
utes." The fellow dallied around with the motor 
a little, giving the illusion of doing something 
to it, and finally put my old condenser back on 
it's in first-class condition, of course, being 
brand-new. The mechanic had talked with a boy, 
as if he had sent the boy for parts. I asked for the 
old condenser when I asked for the bill. He dis- 
appeared and returned with a miserable wreck 
of a condenser. It was apparently the only one 



102 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

he could find in the trash can. It had a break in 
it; it hadn't even been wiped off; it looked like a 
condenser from an early model Ford. I asked for 
a receipt and had an awful time getting it. He 
tried to give me one on a plain piece of paper, 
but I finally got him to make one out on the 
garage billhead for $1.85. We shipped the con- 
denser via fast mail to Bill in New York to add 
to what we call the Riis Museum. 

CASE 290. Laredo, Texas. This garage is located 
right on the bank of the Rio Grande, on the 
road that leads into Mexico across the Inter- 
national Bridge. When I returned for the car the 
mechanic told me: "You needed a new fuel 
pump. I've just put one on." "That's funny," I 
said. "Not many weeks ago the car was gone over 
thoroughly; they installed a new fuel pump." 
The mechanic said : "No, they didn't." 

(Patric's note : Yes, they did! I saw it come out 
of its factory carton and Conf alone said: "It's a 
shame to put on a new one when your old one is 
perfect") 

The mechanic figured out the bill ; it would be 
$4.50. I told him I'd like the old pump, maybe 



AUTOMOBILES 103 

I could get a refund. He shouted: "Get that 
pump that old fuel pump the lady wants it." 
The mechanic brought a pump, and I had him 
wrap it up. The pump he gave us had never been 
on Lorelei. Among other things its innards were 
rusty; ours, being new, had no time to rust. We 
shipped it to Bill for the museum. 

CASE no. Miami, Florida. A huge place, with 
this slogan on its billhead : "You Must Be 
Pleased." Three men looked under my hood, and 
all of them must have seen the trouble at once. 
One said: "Lady, can you leave this car for a 
while?" I asked him how long it would take. 
"Oh, an hour or so." I left the car. When I re- 
turned a smooth-talking man said apologeti- 
cally: "We had to install a new condenser. Yours 
was burnt out. And oh yes, we cleaned your 
points and checked your distributor. I don't think 
you'll have any further trouble." When I got the 
bill I asked for the old condenser. "Sure, you can 
have it if I can find it. But you know they just 
give those things a toss and throw them away." 
He looked on the workbenches and in the scrap 
can and then said : "If you'll come back in the 



104 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

morning we'll give it to you. The mechanic has 
gone home, and I don't know what he did with 
it." The bill was $2.50 for labor and sixty-five 
cents for the forty-cent condenser the garage did 
not install. 

CASE 173. New Orleans, Louisiana. A big ga- 
rage run in connection with a hotel. There was a 
bill for $2.00 when we came to get the car, but 
nothing on the bill to show what had been fixed. 
No one on the first floor knew what had been 
done to the car. Finally they located the me- 
chanic upstairs, who said: "I had to adjust the 
carburetor, set your points, and I had to solder a 
new clip on the coil wire." Seizing upon this 
tangible trifle, I asked the mechanic if he would 
come downstairs and show me the new clip (it 
was the same one that had been on the car when 
I took off the wire). "Where was the clip you 
had to put on?" I asked him. "Here" he 
pointed to the clip we'd unfastened. I took the 
wires off and said : "Why, those clips are both 
alike; where's the one you took off?" "Upstairs 
in the junk, I guess," answered the mechanic. 
"Well, let's go find it. I came to this garage be- 



AUTOMOBILES 105 

cause I'm a member of the New York Auto 
Club, and I want to see that old clip. I didn't sell 
it to you." 

The boy went over to one of those endless 
chain-elevator contraptions and got aboard. I 
started to follow. He said : "You'll have to go up 
the ramp. Customers aren't allowed on this ele- 
vator." I gathered that he was trying to get up- 
stairs ahead of me and set the stage how, I don't 
know. So I said : "Then why are you taking the 
elevator? Please come with me all I want is 
that old clip you said you took off." Then the 
mechanic got panicky and said : "Well, if you 
feel that way I I I just won't make any 
charge." We went down again, and I told the 
manager that the mechanic had said I could have 
my money back. "That doesn't make a damn to 
me," the service manager said, his suave manner 

gone. "We set your plugs " "And put on a 

new clip that didn't go on at all," I interjected. 
"All right," he said, "we'll knock off a quarter 
for the clip." As the manager was making out an 
itemized receipt he said to the mechanic with 
mock gravity: "Well, if we've got to go to jail 
for this we may as well go." 



106 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

CASE 306. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Had we been 
the ordinary tourists we are supposed to be, 
we would have observed, when we checked in at 
the big hotel here, some of these cards by the 
desk in the lobby and under the -glass on the 
dressers in our rooms: "NOTICE: We sincerely 
regret to inform you that a city ordinance pro- 
hibits the parking of automobiles on the streets 
after 2 A.M." Such ordinances, common even in 
small towns, are called "the garageman's law." 
So we should have gone down to the car and, 
although this was quite unnecessary on this balmy 
evening in this well-lighted, well-policed, 
usually crime-free town, parked it in the nearest 
storage garage. So that is just what we did. 

"We had to replace the distributor plate and 
a distributor cone," I was told in the morning. I 
asked for the old ones. "Oh, they were thrown 
out," replied the attendant without hesitation, 
"and the garbage has already been gathered up 
this morning." 

And to conclude the samples of legerdemain 
that involved the return of "our old parts" the 
following case indicates how the unethical stand- 



AUTOMOBILES 107 

ards of the repairmen became even bolder than 
average when they were dealing with women 
customers : 

CASE 308. Roswell, New Mexico. By this time 
the Zephyr has become very muddy and again 
looks as if we've been on a long cross-country 
jaunt, from all the detours we've encountered 
because of the rainiest spring in some twenty 
years. I pulled into this garage, situated next to 
a hotel, paid the storage charge in advance, and 
left it with the usual story. In the morning my 
bill was $3.06. "What was the trouble?" I asked 
innocently. One of the well-dressed owners in the 
office said : "We had to install a new set of dis- 
tributor points. " I asked them for an itemized 
bill, got it, then for "the old parts you took out." 
The owner turned to a well-dressed mechanic 
and said : "The lady would like the old parts you 
took out of her car. She wants to take them back 
to New York with her." So the mechanic handed 
me "my old parts" they were a couple of little 
gadgets I'd never seen before. I took them to 
Patric, who was writing up cases. He said : 
"Why, these are carburetor parts." 



I08 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

We took them to a parts store to have them 
identified. Here we were told: "These are an 
economizer valve and an inlet seat looks as if 
they were out of a Packard no. There was a 
Chandler carburetor that used parts like this. 
But they aren't points at all, and the only place 
they'd fit your Zephyr would be in the glove 
compartment or in your fishing-tackle box 
they'd make good sinkers." 

Confusion of the customer by strange names 
and esoteric gadgets is made easier, in some ga- 
rages, by elaborate new diagnosing machines 
which we called "Rube Goldbergs." These are 
impressive structures with plate glass and a 
glistening array of strange tubes, knobs, dials, 
and columns of mercury. The mechanic would 
hook a "Rube Goldberg" up with our car's motor, 
turn knobs, read dials, and report that poor 
Lorelei was suffering from half-a-dozen ail- 
ments, all expensive and, as far as our test car 
was concerned, entirely imaginary. Naturally a 
certain number of testing devices are necessary 
to the good repairman; but the fancy cabinets 
and dressed-up appearances of the "Rube Gold- 



AUTOMOBILES 1 09 

bergs'' are not. They are too often too obviously 
made to impress the customer. Not one of these 
"Goldberg machines" said anything to the me- 
chanic that led him to the real trouble the dis- 
connected wire. 

Salesmen of these devices call them "business 
producers" or "merchandising machines," mean- 
ing that they make it easier to sell repair jobs 
to the motorist. As one scornful garage owner 
remarked : "Fd buy one of them if the salesman 
could show me how they help service a car ; all 
they do is service your bills." These machines 
cannot lie of their own accord, but men who 
manipulated them admitted in confidence that 
they could be made to say either Mamma or 
Papa. "Rube Goldbergs" are not manufactured 
and sold as simple and efficient tools but are 
dressed up to impress the customer and are sold 
with that appeal extremely prominent. Here, 
for example, are two catalogue descriptions: 

MOTOR TESTER 

A POSITIVE BUSINESS PRODUCER. Every dollar 
you invest in a Master Motor Tester begins to 
earn you a satisfactory PROFIT from the day 
you install the instrument. 



1 10 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

It is a matter of record that most service sta- 
tions write the entire investment off their books 
within 90 days' time IN ACTUAL MONEY 
EARNED. 

MOTOR TESTER A SUPER BUSINESS-BUILD- 
ING PIECE OF EQUIPMENT, actually sells needed 
service. Service has to be sold. Nothing helps 
sell service like an "X" Motor Tester. 



BATTERY STARTER TESTER. Helps you sell new 
batteries, starter overhauls, ground cables, 
starter cables, and starter switches. 

On our survey we found that the "Rube Gold- 
bergs" were likely to be used to merchandise re- 
pairs even when the car had nothing more wrong 
with it than a dangling coil wire. Using an amaz- 
ingly scientific-looking contraption, a mechanic 
in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, announced that it 
was necessary to repair the distributor and carbu- 
retor, tune up the motor, and "free" the valves. 
Here is another test case in which the investi- 
gators made a firsthand acquaintance with 
"merchandising machines." 



AUTOMOBILES 1 1 1 

CASE 96. Tavernier, Florida. For miles beside 
the new "highway that goes to the sea" along the 
Florida Keys you see signs advertising this ga- 
rage. I drove the car in on half an engine. The 
mechanic gave the motor scarcely a glance. In- 
stead, he backed up to the car a most impressive- 
looking Rube Goldberg machine. It sits on a 
tripod and consists of a three-foot-high case lined 
in crimson. Inside the glass cover of this case is 
a set of glass tubes with a number of twists and 
bends ending in a mercury column. If the 
mercury rose to a place on the gauge where it 
read "leaky manifold," why, that was certainly 
what was wrong. Other positions indicated "car- 
buretor out of order," "sticky valves," "leaky in- 
take," "advanced motor," "motor surge," 
"cracked manifold," etc., etc. After consulting 
this machine the mechanic first told us that the 
carburetor was dirty, then that we needed a new 
fuel pump, and finally that we needed work 
which would come to a total of $20. At that I 
pointed out the disconnected wire to the me- 
chanic and asked if that made any difference. 
With unruffled calm he replied : "Oh, I took that 
off myself to get a better test." 



112 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Another device used by many repairmen to 
pad their bills is the u tune up." No two garage- 
men mean the same thing by it, and it is impos- 
sible for the average motorist to tell just what has 
or has not been done to his car. Never be 
satisfied with the explanation, "We gave it a 
tune up" as a description of what you are paying 
for. Demand specific itemization. 

CASE 93. West Palm Beach, Florida. There are 
dozens of men employed in this huge station, 
one of a nationwide chain. Up on the wall was a 
big sign titled "$3.50 Worth of Work for $1.00," 
and then a list of "FORTY OPERATIONS IN 
ONE," with a list of "forty things we do when 
we lubricate a car." I left the car with the usual 
story but also asked for the grease job. 

In the morning the bill was $2.64, which 
breaks down to "Motor Tune Up, $1.49; Lubri- 
cation, $1.00; Zerk Fitting, fifteen cents." "What 
did you do to the motor?" I asked. "Oh," the 
mechanic said, "we tuned it up." "But what spe- 
cifically did you do to correct our trouble?" "The 
nightman did it and he's gone." Lorelei had 
been greased, all right, but they had not done all 



AUTOMOBILES 113 

of their "Forty operations in one." I pointed at 
the sign and said to the service manager : "You 
didn't do all those things, did you?" "Well, we 
did most of them anyway." I asked him: "Then 
why doesn't your sign say: 'We do most of these 
operations for $1.00'?" 

CASE 360. Hollywood, California. When I re- 
turned for the car it was in what they called the 
"proving ground," with all the Rube Goldberg 
devices attached. The coil wire was still off. The 
mechanic's tale of woe was a dismal one: "This 
job will take four hours. You'll have to leave it. 
You mustn't drive the car this way. I can't say 
yet exactly what's wrong but half your engine is 
completely dead. A motor tune up would help a 
little." 

I asked him how much a motor tune up was. 
"A motor tune up is $5.50, but that isn't enough. 
You'll need your distributor synchronized and 
carbon cleaned. You need a new fuel pump. You 
ought to have new plugs. Your distributor will 
require new parts. You'll need two condensers, 
and we'll have to have a carburetor repair kit 
too." The estimate which he wrote down for me 



114 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

added up to $25. The fellow let me drive away 
("to come back tomorrow") with the coil wire 
still dangling in midair after he had unhooked 
the impressive apparatus that is part of his 
"proving ground." 

(Patric's note: What on earth does a motor 
tune up include, if all the rest of these operations 
are something extra? If the distributor is gone 
over, carburetor fixed, new plugs installed, 
carbon cleaned, new condensers, new fuel pump 
installed, then what else is there to require $5.50 
worth of "tuning"?) 

CASE 276. Laredo, Texas. I told the nightman 
the usual tale about buying the car for $625, hav- 
ing it fixed, about how it had run fine until 
"about twenty miles out all of a sudden it started 
running badly as if it were trying to climb a 
tough hill on high, even when it was on the 
level." I asked the nightman to see if he could 
fix it. The bill next morning was for $3.50. 
"What did they have to do? What caused my 
trouble?" I wanted to know. "Oh, we went all over 
it and tightened it." The fellow continued : "We 
fixed your lights, we fixed the doors so they 



AUTOMOBILES 1 15 

wouldn't rattle, and your generator was about to 
fall off." That was their complete diagnosis of 
our trouble. 

CASE 251. Dallas, Texas. This garage has a large 
repair shop. I showed our club membership 
card and said I'd come here because I'd get 
more dependable service if I went to official ga- 
rages when I had trouble. The superintendent 
called the mechanic, who pulled the car over by 
the window and lifted the hood. I went down 
and waited an hour and a half in the lounging 
room every minute expecting the car would be 
ready. Finally they said it was done, and the 
office man made out the bill. "Did you ever have 
that motor tuned up?" he asked. "Well, it was 
reconditioned not long ago. And it was running 
perfectly, just as fine as a car could run, until 
about twenty miles out of Dallas it went bad all 
of a sudden." 

"Well, our work comes to $7.16." I requested 
an itemized bill. He made it out and told me: 
"We had to exchange your distributor, but be- 
cause you are club members we're giving you 25 
per cent off on the parts." "What did the tuning 



Il6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

of the engine take in?" I asked. "Spark plugs, 
carburetor, and general tune up," was the an- 
swer. 

(Patric's note: Spark plugs were not cleaned. 
I took out a couple and looked. Also the distribu- 
tor on our car, after they had ''exchanged" it, 
hadn't even been wiped off.) 

This automotive survey left us with complete 
skepticism in regard to slogans, mottoes, guaran- 
tees, and advertising signs on garages. It is a re- 
grettable fact that we were cheated by the "Au- 
thorized Service" and "Official Garage" places 
whether they bore the name of an automobile 
manufacturer or an automobile club or associa- 
tion, as w r ell as by the independents. We ran into 
repeated evidence of how some car manufactur- 
ers send men around the country with simple ail- 
ments, like loose spark-plug wires, to check up 
on their authorized agents. But seemingly the 
field is too large and the pickings too rich. Many 
agents can't resist that easy chance and take the 
risk of being found out by the parent organiza- 
tion. 

As the investigators moved from coast to coast, 



AUTOMOBILES 117 

making test after test of the repairmen, it often 
became something of a major problem to keep 
the car looking as an ordinary tourist's car should 
look. We were never particularly worried that 
news of what we were doing would leak out. As 
Patric said, "Even if anyone did get wind of it, 
they wouldn't believe it; no one could ever be- 
lieve that someone would spend good money 
purposely to get gypped from coast to coast." But 
it was sometimes difficult to keep the mechanics 
who worked on the Zephyr from leaving marks 
that would make the next man suspicious. Patric 
explains the solution to one such problem in this 
supplementary report: 

It might be well to mention what we must do 
now before every experiment or two. Our 
Zephyr motor is now very dusty. But when a 
mechanic works on the coil, or pretends to, he 
knocks the dust off the coil by wiping it or leav- 
ing finger marks, and therefore the coil shows 
that the car has just been worked on. 

So we have a ten-cent fly spray gun, and we 
spray the coil lightly with kerosene. Then we 
wipe dust off the inside of the wheels and beat 
the dustcloth on the fan belt until the coil is 



Il8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

covered with dust. Then a couple of flicks of the 
cloth on the coil, and it looks as if it hadn't been 
touched since the last overhaul. 

We must also paint a couple of places on the 
radiator shell, where mechanics' arms, reaching 
down always in the same place to connect the coil 
wire, have worn the paint off a little. Nobody but 
us would notice it probably. But we'll take no 
chances. 

One unexpected source of what might have 
been petty politics or what might have been 
graft is illustrated by this Tampa, Florida, case: 

CASE 119. As we left the previous garage we 
saw two wreckers tearing down Florida Avenue 
about 70 m.p.h. with a motor cop tailing them. 
Thirty blocks down the road there was a traffic 
snarl. There'd been a wreck, and there were six 
shiny wreckers on the job, with the cop giving 
speeding tickets to two of them. It was late eve- 
ning. We wondered how all those wreckers had 
reached the scene so quickly when we hadn't 
been able to find more than one garage open for 
service in Tampa after a half-hour's hunt. 
Finally we saw a little barnlike garage near 



AUTOMOBILES 119 

the scene of the wreck; we drove into this place 
on half a motor. A forty-year-old mechanic with 
most of his front teeth gone spotted the loose wire 
instantly and said : "You was carryin' one of your 
motors for a spare." "I was what?" "Them 
Zephyrs has just the same as two motors; they 
got two condensers, two coils, two banks of cyl- 
inders. You was runnin' on only one of 'em." 
"What do I owe you?" I asked. "Oh, a coupla 
thousand bucks and we'll call it square." 

I tried to pay the fellow, tried my damnedest 
to get him to take at least a quarter, but he 
wouldn't. "I'm from Kansas City," he said, "an' 
I expect to be here quite a spell. I don't want 
you Northerners to think you get gypped every 
place you go, like you'd get gypped if you 
was that guy that just had the wreck over 
there." 

"How'd those six wreckers get there so fast?" 
"Oh, it's a racket. The city of Tampa charges 'em 
a good big license fee to operate wreckers, and 
then the boys that run the wreckers sit around 
and play poker and listen to short-wave radios. 
When a police call comes in about a wreck some- 
wheres, they're off like a bat outta hell, tryin' to 



120 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

get to the wreck first and get hooked on. Six of 
'em over there." 

"Do they run garages too?" "Some of 'em. 
Mostly they just run wreckers an' take the work 
to whatever garage will give them a cut they 
gotta, because they gotta pay graft to be allowed 
to listen in on the police radio. But you let one of 
'em haul you in an' you're stuck. If you don't let 
'em fix the car where they want it fixed, they soak 
you twenty bucks or so for haulin' you in. They 
get you comin' and goin'." 

Cops to whom we talked at the scene of the 
wreck admitted, not to graft, but to "petty poli- 
tics as the cause of this damned racket." 

One garageman in Holbrook, Arizona (he 
overcharged us), engaged in an informal con- 
versation with our investigators sounded the ad- 
vance note of a chorus that repairmen by the 
dozens were to take up later in their own defense. 
It was a logical criticism of motorists who neg- 
lect car maintenance. This serviceman said : 

"Some of these tourists deserve the kind of 
treatment they get from repairmen. Fellow came 
in here not long ago. I put in some gas and looked 



AUTOMOBILES 121 

at his oil. He needed some, and then I noticed 
the oil line to his filter was leaking. I said he'd 
better let me put on a new line. He asked, 'How 
much?' and I said six bits. He said, 'You're too 
damned high,' and drove off. Few hours later I 
heard him coming. Sure enough, the same car 
limped by here with at least two bearings gone. 
It cost him $35 or $40 to get it fixed down the 
street. If he'd let me put that oil line on while it 
was just cracked, before the thing broke clear 
off, as it must of, why, he'd have saved all that." 

Many repairmen whose shops and garages we 
tested didn't have the slightest desire to discuss 
mechanical details with the investigators, or to 
explain their charges. In Savannah, Georgia, a 
serviceman who was asked to explain his charge 
for "repairs to ignition" answered : "Lady, when 
the doctor gives you pills he doesn't say what 
ails you. If you knew as much about an engine as 
we do, we wouldn't be in business." Others were 
more communicative. One fast, low-priced and 
capable man in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, asked 
to rate the difficulty of the test we were present- 
ing, said: 

"Well, a dumb mechanic might take ten min- 



122 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

utes to find that disconnected wire, if he were 
really dumb. A good mechanic ought to find it, 
if he didn't happen to notice it at once, in three 
minutes at the outside. But listen, if you really 
want to tie a mechanic up in knots and find out 
how really good he is just put a pencil mark 
across the accumulator in the distributor." "Ah," 
said Patric, "and the current will jump along the 
pencil mark instead of across the points?" "Yeah. 
And you'd be surprised at what that will make an 
engine do. I've seen a lot of fine mechanics work 
over that thing for an hour and not find what 
was wrong!" 

"But," said Pat, "that wouldn't be fair to the 
mechanics, then. After all, we're not looking for 
miracles. We're just looking for ordinarily hon- 
est service. We want to distinguish the guys that 
put this wire back and charge us $2.50 for over- 
hauling the carburetor. It would be good for you 
if somebody stopped them; your customers 
would be easier to deal with if they hadn't been 
gypped so often." "You're right about that," the 
fellow said. "Life 'would be a lot pleasanter if 
there weren't any gyps." 

Another of the ten points of advice which we 



AUTOMOBILES 123 

urge motorists to follow in dealing with their 
repairmen is "demand itemized bills." Here is a 
case in which following this simple rule helped 
very appreciably: 

CASE 195. Paducah, Kentucky. A large, well- 
equipped dealer agency, giving twenty-four- 
hour service. When I returned for the car the 
service manager said that it was done, and that 
the bill would be $1.50. "What was wrong?" 
"Your timing was late and your points weren't 
set right." "Please give me a bill, and write on it 
just what you told me about the timing and the 
points," I said. The fellow made out the bill as 
I requested, but made the charge only $1.00 in- 
stead of $1.50. This has happened before with us 
ask for an itemization, and the amount is re- 
duced. 

For the gyppery they suffer, usually in blissful 
ignorance, drivers themselves are largely to 
blame. For the motorist who cherishes his pocket- 
book and his car, here are ten positive command- 
ments to be followed : 
i. If possible, stay with the car and watch the 



124 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

mechanic work. The job will be better done, for 
he can't be sure how little you really know. 

2. Avoid strange garages as much as you can. 
Most of them never expect to see your face again. 

3. Remember that the big garages, the ones 
"recommended" by a hotel, the ones with neon 
lights and Rube Goldberg machines, are likely to 
be less honest than the smaller places where the 
owner works. For square, competent service, seek 
out a garage where farmers go. In cities, places 
that specialize in repairing trucks are less likely 
to have the gypping habit. It's harder to fool a 
truck driver. 

4. Ask in advance for the return of any parts re- 
placed. You will be less likely to be given some- 
thing rescued from the scrap pile. 

5. Whenever possible, tell the mechanic ex- 
actly what is wrong with your car. Give its symp- 
toms precisely. Don't let him get away with a 
"tune up" of the motor, which may mean that 
he has done anything or nothing. 

6. Demand an itemized receipt on the garage's 
printed billhead. Reluctance to put villainy 
down in black and white sometimes results in 
lower bills. 



AUTOMOBILES 

7. Study the shop equipment. Ask yourself hon- 
estly whether it was designed primarily for work 
or to impress you. Remember that lathes, drill 
presses, valve facers, grinding wheels, electric 
drills, as well as humble wrenches, are designed 
for workmen, not, as some modern Goldbergs 
are, designed to "create customer confidence" and 
sell more service. 

8. One kind of mechanic to look for is one 
whose chief interest is "fixing something." He is 
seldom a good businessman, so he's usually found 
in a small shop. Every job is a challenge, to be 
fixed quickly, at the lowest possible price. Be 
careful that this man doesn't undercharge you. 
He isn't thinking about money; you have to do 
that for him. 

9. Above all, be very wary and watchful. Don't 
hesitate to challenge every charge; to demand 
explicit proof of its necessity. Skepticism is your 
only chance of reducing the odds that are against 
you. 

10. When you find a capable and honest me- 
chanic, be honest with him. Be loyal to him. Let 
no one else work on your car except in emergen- 
cies, for you have made a priceless discovery. 



Radios 




WHEN WE SET OUT to pose a simple problem in 
elementary honesty for radio repairmen from 
coast to coast, we followed the same principles 
as we had followed in the auto-repair field. That 
is, we created in the radio the simplest possible 
mechanical defect, instantly obvious on opening 
the set. It was just this simple: we loosened a 
tube. The loosened tube, nearest the back of the 
set, stuck up like a wobbling signpost; you could 
not help but see it. In this test we used Zenith 

126 



RADIOS 1 27 

"wavemagnet" portable sets, three of which we 
bought new for the survey. 

But in order to collect the largest possible 
number of test cases we bought another radio, a 
pocket RCA. There was an advantage to the use 
of this smaller set. "While Lioy May has the car 
out on tests," wrote Patric in a report on the first 
case involving the RCA, "I have to tote the 
Zenith. I might carry two Zeniths well enough, 
but you can't go into a radio shop with both of 
them. So I wrap up the RCA and carry it like a 
box of hardware under my arm. I plant the 
Zenith first and pick it up last, so that I never 
appear to a radioman to be carrying two sets. 
This extra radio speeds up our work in places 
where there are many shops." In this little set we 
sometimes loosened a tube, but usually we dis- 
connected one of the two snap-on wires from the 
"B" battery. This, too, is just as obvious to any 
inspecting eye as it can possibly be. 

In every case, before entering a repair shop, 
the investigator tested the radio to make certain 
that it was playing as well as ever then loosened 
the tube or slipped off the wire and walked into 
the repair shop. 



128 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

How did the repairmen meet this simplest of 
problems? Well, the first thirty-six radio shops 
visited, in Eastern cities and towns, sold the in- 
vestigators thirty-two new tubes. Not one tube 
'was needed. Does this raise in your mind a sus- 
picion about the last couple of tubes your repair- 
man sold you? In the face of such experience, is 
it possible to merely shrug one's shoulders and 
say, "There are gyps in every industry"? 

Perhaps the public has helped create this 
broad habit of petty theft. Said a mechanic in 
Camden, New Jersey, annoyed at Miss May for 
asking specifically what had been wrong, "Most 
people don't ask anything about it so long as the 
radio plays. They're just glad it's fixed." But, 
whatever the cause, this investigation proved that 
the habit had become nationwide in the radio- 
repair industry. Of 304 shops, of every type, in 
every state, IQ$ tried by one device or another to 
take advantage of the customer. Some critics call 
it gross incompetence; we call it downright dis- 
honesty. The investigators ran into it 64 per cent 
of the time. 

Remember, this was the simplest kind of test 
with which a radio repairman could be con- 



RADIOS 1 29 

fronted. A radio magazine once sent to scores of 
random shops a set with only a broken speaker 
wire and received diagnoses as varied as ours and 
higher estimates. But our "trouble" was far 
simpler. Seventy-six repairmen proved that by 
detecting the trouble the instant they removed 
the back of the set. These men pushed back the 
tube or hooked up the wire, usually laughed, and 
refused to make a charge. Thirty-three others, 
equally truthful, made a charge so moderate as 
to class them also as honest. The straightforward 
service which these 109 honest men rendered puts 
the majority of the radio repairmen to shame: 

CASE 56. Suffolk, Virginia. A friendly looking 
kid waited on me. He quickly found the loose 
tube in the RCA with the remark : "This tube 
had nothing to hold it solid." Then he tried the 
radio and it played. "What was the matter?" I 
asked, pretending not to have noticed what he 
did. "Just pushed a tube in, that's all. There 
won't be any charge for that." "What's your 
name?" I asked. "Ebenezer, but everybody calls 
me Sneezer. I'm a high-school student, learning 
the radio business for high-school credit. It's 



130 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

kind of a vocational course, you see, with the high 
school co-operating with the people who can 
teach students a trade." 

CASE 300. Cheyenne, Wyoming. A large radio 
parts-and-supply house. "We don't as a rule re- 
pair radio sets," the fellow said, "but since you're 
here, I'll look at yours. Here's your trouble. 
Simple, hey? Now she plays fine. No, no charge 
for that." 

CASE 223. Albuquerque, New Mexico. An old- 
established side-street place into which I took the 
radio with the loose wire. The fellow opened the 
set, immediately saw the loose battery wire, re- 
placed it, listened to the set, and said: "It seems 
to be all right now." "What do I owe you?" 
"Call it a quarter." "I'm glad I came here," I 
said, and mentioned some of the things he might 
have told me. "There are shops that do that," the 
fellow grinned, "but we aren't one of them. 
There's plenty of real work to be done without 
inventing things people don't need. We like to 
make customers, not drive them away. We hate 
to make a charge for little things like that, but 
we've got to charge something to help cover our 



RADIOS 131 

overhead/' "I'm not kicking," I answered; "I'm 
glad you found the trouble so quickly." 

CASE 103. Deland, Florida. "I'm not the radio- 
man," said the clerk, "I'm on the selling end. 
Well, I can look at it. I used to fool around with 
radios, but I gave it up. Why, here's a loose tube. 
That's all. Now she plays. Oh no, I couldn't 
charge for pushing in a tube." 

Such frank dealing with customers was re- 
freshingly at variance with the practices of the 
majority of radio-repair shops encountered by 
the investigators. Out of every one hundred tests 
the customer was cheated sixty-four times by the 
repairman. Is it, or is it not, a fair inference, 
therefore, that sixty-four times out of one hun- 
dred the radio repairman will sell a strange cus- 
tomer tubes, batteries, and services which his set 
doesn't need or charge him for parts he didn't 
even put in? Some radiomen lied for small 
amounts; will a man who lies for a dollar sud- 
denly turn truthful if he sees $20 ahead? 

The larger the town, the more frequent the 
swindling. Radio shops in places with a popu- 
lation under 10,000 were 51 per cent dishonest, 



132 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

while in larger cities the percentage of gyppery 
rose to 66 per cent. Seventeen out of the nineteen 
shops tested in New York and vicinity gave false 
diagnoses and ran up wholly unjustified bills to a 
total of $35.75. In one week the "radiotricians" 
of the great metropolitan area took from us more 
than the cost of our new $30 set. 

CASE 31. New York City. A medium-sized shop. 
Miss May left the set; when I called for it an 
attached bill read "three tubes blown." Sur- 
prised, I asked, "But what would blow three 
tubes?" "You left the switch on." "But that 
shouldn't blow three tubes. What about people 
who play their radio all night?" I asked. "Well, 
that would do it too." The man became very nerv- 
ous at this point, twisted his face, rubbed his 
head, anxious to get rid of me. Beside the set were 
three evidently blown tubes. It was quite obvious 
he had picked out three bad tubes to substantiate 
his statement. He hadn't expected to be dealing 
with a man ; when he made out the bill he was 
thinking only of the gentle-mannered Miss May. 

A great deal of the cheating involved tubes. 
Tubes are the great radio racket. In order to get 



RADIOS 133 

a conclusive check-up on the repairman's jug- 
gling of our high-grade standard tubes we found 
it essential to have marked -tubes. The following 
excerpts from Patric's survey notes .give some 
indication of the care with which we set the stage 
for the investigation : 

Supplementary report. Mr. Wallace made the 
suggestion that these radio tubes of ours be 
marked in some secret way. Each tube carries 
the familiar legend: "Made in the U.S.A." So 
on all our tubes I scratched off the periods from 
the U.S.A., making it U S A. I figured nobody 
but a printer, proofreader, or such would notice 
that. This unpunctuated "U S A" uncovered a 
variety of subterfuges employed by mechanics 
who charged for new tubes when they had not 
changed any; who took out the set's costly tubes 
and installed inferior ones; or deliberately 
burned out the tubes in fictitious "tests." Our own 
tubes, which were Zenith tubes, come in stout 
boxes sealed by the manufacturers, making sub- 
stitution impossible if the customer sees the seal 
broken and the box opened. Makers are well 
aware of servicemen's dishonesty; that is why 
they seal their tube cartons. 



134 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

CASE 51. Salisbury, Maryland. The bill was 
marked: "New tube, $1.55." "I'd like to talk to 
the man that put it in," I said. "You'll have to 
wait. He's out for a while," was the answer. I 
waited. He came back. "May I have the old 
tube?" I asked. "It was a Zenith." Meanwhile I 
saw that he had replaced a tube not the one I 
had loosened with one of another make. The 
fellow looked all over his shop for a Zenith tube. 
Finally he went outside and talked to another 
man. Then he came in, went to the shelves where 
he keeps his cartons of new tubes, and from an 
already opened carton took a Zenith. // was our 
good tube, all right, marked USA, and he 
simply had added it to his own stock. 

CASE 15. York, Pennsylvania. When I returned 
to get the set I found this verdict: "Three tubes 
blown out $6.50." "Gosh," I said, "I can't af- 
ford that. I'll have to think it over." So I took 
the radio away and inspected it. The loose tube 
had been pushed down into its socket. But now 
the set wouldn't play at all; clearly they had 
checked it, found what was wrong, and then 
tampered with it. So back went the radio : the re- 



RADIOS 135 

pairman made a considerable show of taking new 
tubes from their boxes, putting them in the radio, 
wrapping the "blown" tubes, and giving them to 
us with the receipt for $6.50. 

CASE 176. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "You had a 
condenser blown and a tube burned out $2.50." 
I asked for the old tube and the old condenser. 
"Here's the old condenser," he said, picking one 
off the floor, one too large ever to have been in 
our set. "But the tube will take longer to find." 
I heard him hunting, and in ten minutes he came 
out, triumphant and relieved, with a tube. Mean- 
while I had checked my set. I still had all my 
"U S A" tubes. One glance at his "U.S.A." tube, 
and I said, "Sorry, but that has never been in my 
set." He looked blank and scared, and faltered, 
"I don't know what you mean." "Mister," I said, 
"you know exactly what I mean." He seemed re- 
lieved when, paying nothing, I walked out. 

CASE 79. (Let's call him Korber.) Charlotte, 
North Carolina. A radioman put on a trans- 
parently false show of testing the tubes and de- 
cided two were bad but that there was still more 
trouble in the set. So the investigator left it, spe- 



136 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

cifying that he wanted all old parts kept for him. 
When he returned there were no old parts for 
him. 

"We took the tubes to the Zenith distributor 
and exchanged them for new ones. So we have to 
charge you only $1.50 for service." So I went out, 
bought a postal money order for $1.50, and re- 
turned to Korber. The two tubes he had put in 
were not Zenith, but off-brand. "You got an ex- 
change from Zenith but put off-brand tubes in 
my set?" I queried. "They're fine tubes we put 
in," he said. "Mr. Korber," I said, "I have paid 
you with a postal money order because if you 
cash it you may be liable for misuse of the mails." 
Korber, poise and suavity gone, blurted, "But 
I'm clean. I didn't charge you for anything, just 
for service." 

Why is the retail servicing of radios so ridden 
with deceit? The best answer was given by a can- 
did repairman in Chicago. Caught in the act of 
cheating, he confessed everything. We later 
learned he had been fined by the Department of 
Weights and Measures for selling short-measure 
aerial wire. He said to us : "Mister, you've got 



RADIOS 137 

me. I admit you're right. I didn't put in a new 
tube. Your tubes were all right. We'll give you 
your money back if you'll give us the bill and the 
tube. We have to do that sort of thing. Every- 
body else does it everybody in the radio busi- 
ness. Fellow comes in here with a $30 radio and 
says 'Fix it.' Why shouldn't we get two, three 
bucks from him? We've got rent of $300 a month, 
we've got taxes. Most of the time radios come in 
there's nothing much more wrong with them 
than there was with yours. But suppose we 
charged a customer fifty cents. Think we'd make 
a friend of him ? No, we wouldn't. He'd just think 
we didn't really fix his radio he'd think we 
couldn't have done a good job for fifty cents. See 
that customer that just went out of here? See how 
pleased he was? Well, I fixed his radio, between 
other customers, with ten cents' worth of wire. 
I charged him three and a half and he's tickled to 
death. 

"If you'd taken your radio over across the street, 
they'd have done the same as I did. Why, one 
woman went over there needing one tube, and 
they sold her six. You can't get away from shops 
around here for less than a couple of dollars. So 



138 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

why blame us for doing something everybody 
else big and little does? 

"The public doesn't know a damned thing 
about radios, and you've got to make them think 
that you do. The public is a bunch of chiselers 
anyway. Let the public learn something about 
them. That's the only way they can keep from 
paying too much." 

The above plea of guilty makes it sound as if 
it were impossible for a radio repairman to give 
cheap, good, honest service. But contrast that 
situation with the following cases of straightfor- 
ward dealing which the investigators discovered : 

CASE 44. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The man 
took the tubes over to a testing machine while I 
watched. Finally he located a bent prong on one 
of the tubes that had been causing the trouble. 
He only wanted a quarter. "I could have gypped 
you easy," the fellow said. "I could have pressed 
the wrong button and told you a tube was bad. 
But I've been in business eighteen years. That 
kind of thing doesn't pay in a small town." 

CASE 114. Miami, Florida. "I'm not the radio- 
man," said the clerk. "He won't be back until to- 



RADIOS 139 

morrow. . . . Well, I know a little about radios. 
Here, there's nothing wrong only a tube 
popped out of the socket." He wouldn't accept 
any money for it. 

CASE 41. Reading, Pennsylvania. The first three 
electric and radio stores I went to in Reading 
referred me to this place, saying the man there 
was a good, reliable mechanic. I left the radio 
and started toward the door. Just as my hand 
grasped the knob the mechanic yelled at me: 
"Hey your radio's fixed already." I walked 
back into the shop, saying "Already?" "Just a 
tube loose," he answered. He made no charge for 
his work. 

A particularly distressing phenomenon of the 
radio investigation and of the other surveys, too, 
was the frequency with which the woman investi- 
gator was gypped among the repairmen we sur- 
veyed. Chivalry was apparently a dead letter. 
Miss May was cheated sixty-eight times out of 
every hundred times in the radio investigation, 
Patric only sixty times per hundred. The av- 
erage woman's complete lack of mechanical 
knowledge, her disinclination to question bills, 



140 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

her hesitancy in demanding the return of old 
parts make her an easier mark than the male cus- 
tomers. Particularly when dealing with the 
woman investigator did repairmen fake tech- 
nical-sounding disorders to cover their crooked- 
ness. 

Said one radio repairman in Tallahassee, 
Florida: "It's hard to say exactly what I did to 
your set. I removed some of the invisible oxida- 
tion." More indifferent mechanics would not 
specify anything further than "repairs." "One of 
the tubes was temperamental" was the explana- 
tion given by one man in San Luis Obispo, Cali- 
fornia. This case in Moscow, Idaho, reveals the 
attitude of many repairmen toward being spe- 
cific with their customers: 

CASE 274. "You're all done. Plays fine now 
it'll be $1.50," the repairman told me when I re- 
turned. "Had to solder a loose connection." I 
asked him to show me where. "I couldn't do that 
without taking the set all apart again." "That's 
all right," I said; "you can charge me extra." He 
fumbled nervously with the set. "You annoy me, 
standing here," he said. "Please go over there 



RADIOS 141 

and sit down." "I want to see what you did," I 
said. "I want to see where you did that solder job 
not some future solder job." When I insisted 
on his itemizing "soldering a loose connection" 
on the receipt, the mechanic said: "Listen, I 
don't know who you are or what your game is. 
But I'll tell you right now we never tell a cus- 
tomer what's wrong with his radio, and why? 
Because he wouldn't understand us. Especially 
women. Can we go into technical detail with cus- 
tomers? They'd get all confused. So <we just tell 
them whatever sounds most reasonable. That's 
the way we keep our customers satisfied." 

Again it was the woman investigator who was 
the victim of one of the radio survey's costliest 
contacts with dishonest repairmen in an excep- 
tionally well-equipped shop in Baltimore, Mary- 
land. 

CASE 1 8. Upon my return, after leaving the radio 
set, the proprietor greeted me affably. "You 
needed three new tubes, but we thought we 
ought to contact you before making the change, 
especially since we did not have the tubes in the 



142 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

shop. They are a new design, hard to get." (This 
was a lie.) I said, "Oh well, since the tubes are 
hard to get I'd better take the radio along." He 
answered : "We can get those tubes in a couple 
of hours." "I haven't that much time." "Well, 
maybe we could get them in an hour." The effi- 
cient-looking girl in the office said, "But we'll be 
closed by then." The proprietor put in, "It hap- 
pens I have to stay a little overtime." So I re- 
turned, only thirty minutes later; the mythical 
new tubes it would take so long to get were "in" 
and the set was ready, indicating that the tube 
story was more phony even than usual. The bill 
$6.80. 

Early in the radio survey we discovered that 
dishonest repairmen displayed a'marked aversion 
toward specifying on their bills exactly what 
they said they had done to our radios. As the 
investigators swung southward along the coast, 
then headed west across the country, time after 
time they encountered mechanics, willing to lie 
orally, unwilling to lie in writing, who hid their 
crookedness behind vaguely worded receipts. 
Sometimes Patric would press these men to be 



RADIOS 143 

specific about itemizing repairs they said they 
had made and the mechanics would go through 
all sorts of fantastic maneuvers : 

CASE 245. San Francisco, California. "You 
had a wire loose. I soldered it good for you," the 
man' told me. "How much do I owe you?" I 
asked. "Two dollars and a half." The fellow 
looked at me and studied my face. Then he said : 
"But you can knock off the two dollars and call 
it fifty cents." "Fine," I said. "That's mighty 
nice of you. Now please write me out a receipt 
and tell me, on that receipt, exactly what wire it 
was you soldered." 

"I haven't any receipts," the mechanic said. 
"Well, would you write it on a piece of paper 
and sign it?" "Oh," he said, "it wasn't anything. 
There was a loose tube too. That was more im- 
portant than the wire." "Never mind about the 
tube," I said. "It's the wire I'm interested in. 
Here's your fifty cents. Now please write out a 
receipt. Just say you soldered a wire, and sign the 
receipt." 

"Oh, it was such a little thing. I don't like to 
charge you anything." I answered, "But I'm not 



144 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

objecting to the charge. It's fair enough. You 
soldered a wire, and I want to pay you. But I 
must have a receipt saying which wire you 
soldered." But the fellow refused to make out 
any receipt and finally refused to make any 
charge. 

When the investigators attempted to recover 
old parts which repairmen claimed they had re- 
placed it usually proved as hard as taming the 
wind. This imaginary "replacing of parts" was 
a persistent source of evasion and deceit. 

CASE 130. Tallahassee, Florida. This was an 
RCA case. The man said: "You had a tube 
blown little bitty thing about the size of your 
finger. Luckily I happened to have a new one. 
They sell at $1.55." "Fine, please give me the old 
one." "Sure, unless the colored man has thrown 
it in the trash." The fellow went out in the rear 
for a few minutes then returned. "That colored 
boy done went an' carried it home with him!" 
"H'm," I said. "What would a colored boy want 
of a blown-out radio tube?" "I dunno, but that's 
what he did." I took a look at the "new tube" 
that he said he had put in my set. It was the one 



RADIOS 145 

that had been in there when I brought the set into 
the shop! 

CASE 33. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "It needed 
three tubes. Your bill isn't much," the mechanic 
told me, adding up some numbers to the amount 
of $4.25. I asked for the old tubes. "Those have 
been thrown outside in the trash." Then he 
turned to his co-worker and said, "That door to 
the outside is locked, isn't it?" It was obvious 
they had no old tubes to give me. I paid $4.25 for 
a typewritten receipt the actual labor. 

In not a few cases the investigators met out- 
right sabotage. One man in Dallas, Texas, spread 
apart the center socket so that the center post 
made no connection. One in Milwaukee twisted 
a connection so it would not function. This in- 
stance of dexterity on the RCA took place in 
Memphis, Tennessee : 

CASE 152. The mechanic pulled out my B bat- 
tery, put in a fresh one, and hooked up the dis- 
connected battery wire. The set played, of course. 
I expressed surprise that my old battery had 
burned out so soon and started to put it back. 
"I'll do it for you," he said, and put it back up- 



146 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

side down, so the set was dead. "I think you have 
it upside down/' I remarked. 

"All right, just to show you," he said, and 
turned the battery around. Then he held the 
wires in reverse by a sleight-of-hand trick, so 
that the positive wire touched the negative pole, 
and vice versa. I commented on that and asked 
him to change them and snap them into place. 
He did ; but this time he pulled a tube loose so the 
set wouldn't play. 

CASE 53. Crisfield, Maryland. Completely dis- 
regarding the loose tube, the man began testing 
on a tube tester. One tube he said was bad, the 
others O.K. He didn't have Zeniths, so I paid 
the labor charge of $1.25 and left. The set now 
would not play; one tube's filament had been 
burned out like a bad light. 

An honest mechanic, in Norfolk, showed Pat- 
ric how this could be done on a standard tube 
tester. "The flash is so faint you can't see it un- 
less you turn the lights out. Here's a weak old 
tube. I'll show you the trick" and he did. 

In the face of such handling of the radios by 
the repairmen it becomes difficult to remember 



RADIOS 147 

that these were brand-new sets, in excellent con- 
dition, which had been playing perfectly until 
the very minute the investigators walked into the 
repair shop. And the repairmen examined these 
good radios, and produced, by way of alibi and 
evasion, no less than sixty-eight different ex- 
planations of what was wrong; sixty-eight em- 
broidered untruths. These diagnoses indicate in- 
genuity at least: 

Singing tube 
Tube paralyzed 
Microphonic tube 
Three tubes out of sock- 
ets 

Condenser popped 
Shorted condenser gang 
Repair loud-speaker 
Overhaul radio 
Switch points dirty 



Remove partial short 
Aerial lead kinked 



Change calibration 

Wire broken on antenna 

coil 

Solder loud-speaker wire 

Solder oscillating coil 

Solder transformer 

Piece of solder left in 

tube socket at factory 

Set out of alignment 

Voltage surge 

Remove whistle from set 



Some of the repairmen got tough: 

CASE 133. Andalusia, Alabama. I was given a 
smooth line by the manager. Said he'd checked 
this and that, tuned everything up, adjusted the 



148 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

set, and soldered a broken wire. "Where was the 
wire?" I asked him. He showed me one that had 
been soldered at the factory. 

I handed him a silver dollar and said, "Now, 
please make me out an itemized receipt and put 
down those things you did." "Sure thing." He 
made one out and omitted the soldered wire. I 
said, "But please include the wire you soldered. 
That's important, too, isn't it?" "Why do you 
have to have that?" "I just like itemized receipts, 
that's all." Then the fellow wrote down, "Repair 
broken connection." 

"I'm sorry, sir," I said, "but this won't do 
either. You're an electrician. You know that tech- 
nically a broken connection might mean a thing 
so simple as an open switch, or a tube out of its 
socket. You said you soldered this wire; that it 
was broken. Please put that down just as you told 
it to me." "But why do you have to have that 
written down?" the fellow asked. "Mister," I 
said, "you'd be surprised if you knew. But since 
you did solder a broken wire, I can't see what 
objection you have to writing it down." 

Then the fellow's face grew livid with rage. 
"I've never had anybody act like you since I've 



RADIOS 149 

been in business." And he hauled off and was 
about to take a poke at me but customers re- 
strained him. "Tell me what you want me to 
write," he said, still boiling mad. "Write just 
what you told me you did. Then I'll be satisfied." 
"I'll meet you outside, and then you won't be 
satisfied, you -" he muttered. "That sounds 
like a threat of bodily violence," I said. "Do you 
threaten your customers just because they want 
receipts?" "Well," he stormed, "nobody else ever 
insists on that kind of receipts." At last, in des- 
peration, he wrote out the receipt. 

CASE 165. Lincoln, Illinois. "You had a burned- 
out tube," said the repairman "$2.30." I 
spotted my "U S A" tube on the bench beside 
him. "Now just for my own satisfaction," I 
asked, "please test that tube that's burned out." 
So the guy deliberately pressed the wrong but- 
tons and made the tube test "shorted" and then 
"bad." I said, "I still can't see how such a new 
tube would have burned out. I'm going to put it 
back in the radio and try it again." He protested, 
but I took out his tube and put mine back in. Of 
course the radio played fine. I said, not angrily, 



150 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

"I don't think I need a new tube at all." "Well, 
then, you owe me a dollar for service," he told 
me. 

Then I did show anger. "For service? What 
service? For telling me my good tube was burned 
out? You may call that service, but I don't." 
Then he got awfully mad, rushed at me and 
landed a terrific kick on my right thigh. I said, 
"Mister, you shouldn't have done that. You just 
must not kick your customers." Then he whined, 
"I want my dollar." I said, "The only way you'll 
get that is to come with me to the police station." 
"I didn't kick you hard," he pleaded. I went to 
a doctor, who painted a four-inch skinned place 
with iodine; then I got a policeman and we went 
back to the radio shop. But the man was gone, 
and nobody knew when he would be back. 

Several relieving comic notes occurred in the 
course of the radio check. In Paducah, Kentucky, 
a man found the loose tube immediately but 
stated that the tones were bad and the speaker 
needed repair. The investigator queried him 
till he admitted that the loose tube had been 
the whole trouble. 



RADIOS 151 

"But I let you off easy. Some shops here would 
charge you $6.00 for what I did." At this point 
I told him that I knew the tube had been loose, 
that I was checking radio shops. "Then," ex- 
claimed his wife, "you came in here just to see if 
we would tell you lies? I don't think that's being 
fair." 

CASE 304. Chicago, Illinois. There was a charge 
of $1.00 when I returned. "What was wrong?" 
I asked. "There was a loose connection." "How 
did you fix it?" One clerk said, "We usually 
have to solder them." "Where was it?" I asked, 
opening the radio. "Don't know as you can see 
it," said the other clerk. "But if the loose con- 
nection were simply a battery wire off, like this, 
would the charge be $1.00 just the same?" I 
queried. "We don't charge for things like that," 
answered the clerk. "Then I may assume you did 
have to solder something, or the charge wouldn't 
be $1.00?" "Yes." 

"Since you're sure it was a solder job," I said, 
"would you write me the bill that way? You see, 
I don't mind paying for a solder job at the rate of 
$1.00." Without hesitation the fellow wrote the 



152 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

bill: "Solder loose connection." Then I had an 
idea. "Would you be willing, if I asked you, to 
make it out to the Better Business Bureau?" 

The fellow wrote part of a capital U B" before 
he tumbled. Then he grabbed the phone and got 
the mechanic who had worked on the set. "Tell 
me exactly what you had to do. The notation 
says loose connection. That all? Well, you make 
me out a liar down here." There was no charge, 
then. The first clerk assured me in no uncertain 
terms of the reliability of this outfit, and how this 
was "just a slip-up." But Miss May had paid the 
same shop even more. 

The tour of radio shops revealed that there is 
considerable use of elaborate testing panels. In 
honest hands, the better of this Rube Goldberg 
equipment is helpful in trouble-shooting. In dis- 
honest hands, even the best of it can be made to 
give any desired diagnosis, as the investigators 
discovered in so many of the cases they en- 
countered. Virtually every shop has on its counter 
a smaller machine with rows of mysterious gadg- 
ets, flashing lights, and a dial indicating "Good" 
and "Bad." A crooked dealer, by pressing the 



RADIOS 153 

wrong combinations of buttons or switches, can 
show that any tube is "Bad." Rube Goldbergs 
can be of real value to an honest repairman; but 
in our investigation we found that they gave dis- 
honest mechanics great opportunities to practice 
their gyppery. 

The testimony of the operators themselves on 
this subject is eloquent. We have already cited 
the case in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Case 44), 
where an honest repairman revealed how easy 
it would have been to deceive us with his testing 
panel. In Madison, Wisconsin, the proprietor of 
an exceptionally fine and honest shop was asked 
why he used no such machines. He said: "Don't 
need all that stuff. Of course those things make a 
beautiful display, but about all you need is a volt- 
meter and a few other little things. IVe got all 
the testing equipment right here on this little 
tool cart. It doesn't make the beautiful display 
that those fancy panels make, but you don't need 
as much test equipment for most work as people 
think." A lecturer in a radio school said, "No 
good serviceman has any use for such a machine, 
except to merchandise tubes and convince cus- 
tomers. Make no mistake about that." 



154 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

At one point in the transcontinental journey 
Patric stopped some days to attend a radio 
school. His curiosity was well rewarded, for the 
proprietor said to him privately: "It will take a 
year to learn the radio business, but we can teach 
you enough so you can fool the public in about 
three months." And an instructor later went on to 
give some highly instructive advice, interesting 
to the radio owner, for whom it was not intended. 

"When you operate your own shop, hire a serv- 
iceman, but pay him a commission, not a salary. 
He will take a part that costs five cents, put it in a 
radio, and charge for a $3.00 or $4.00 service job. 
The trick is to get these jobs out fast. A good man 
will turn out six or eight an hour. Suppose he 
does make $100 a week on commission you're 
getting $300 worth of work. 

"Never do any home radio servicing. Never do 
any work while the customer watches you. Other- 
wise you can't get a good price. You should ad- 
vertise home service, yes, but go into the home 
with only a little equipment and say you'll have 
to take the set back to the shop to work on it. 

"Nine tenths of the stuff that goes into a radio 
when it is serviced is something the radio didn't 



RADIOS 155 

need. Put in new by-pass condensers and such 
whether the set needs them now or not. You get 
a good price for them, and they cost only a few 
cents. If you don't do that, in a couple of months 
a condenser may go bad, and the customer may 
think you did a bum job. 

"Never give the customer the old parts you 
take out. He'll take them down the street and a 
gyp shop will tell him they would have sold him 
for $1.25 what you sold him for $2.50. What does 
the customer know about quality?" 

Where, then, lies the hope for the public, con- 
fronted with a situation such as that uncovered 
by our survey of radio shops? There is hope. 
Though honesty in little things may have gone 
into temporary eclipse, it surely has not been en- 
tirely obliterated by the widespread habit of 
petty thievery. The stability in this industry, the 
responsibility, ought to rest with the manufac- 
turers. Why do they not take an aggressive in- 
terest in stamping out this dishonesty? They 
would probably sell more and better sets if the 
cost of keeping them were less often increased 
by repairmen's overcharges and swindling. The 
good will they build up at great cost is constantly 



156 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

being broken down by repairmen who explain 
high charges for imaginary repairs by blaming 
"poor workmanship at the factory." 

When our article appeared, not one maker of 
radios either wrote us or came to see us, as so 
many automobile makers had done. They didn't 
seem to care. Letters by the score from repairmen 
blamed poor manufacturing methods for much 
of radio gyppery. "Radios aren't as well made as 
they were ten years ago" . . . "There are so many 
different models no standardization whatever 
. . . that we must buy $100 worth of manuals and 
blueprints merely to have the wiring charts of 
the sets that come into our shop" . . . "Manufac- 
turers don't want to sell better radios they want 
to sell cheaper ones at high prices. They go bad, 
and we get the headaches." 

None of our auto mechanic critics blamed the 
car makers for poor material and workmanship. 
Virtually all of our radio mechanic critics 
blamed the radio manufacturers. 

As for the customer, let him seek to acquire an 
elementary knowledge of how a radio works. Or 
let him seek the advice of a friendly "ham" 
an amateur operator who from his own experi- 



RADIOS 157 

ence can recommend a competent and honest 
shop. Insist on getting new tubes in factory-sealed 
cartons. Ask for the old parts. Insist on itemized 
bills stating in detail precisely what the job was. 
It may even be wise to identify tubes by marking 
them in some secret manner. Neighbors might 
check their repairmen and compare notes. 

It may be possible for some towns to adopt the 
system which our investigators found working 
well in Reading, Pennsylvania, where three 
shops referred the job to a radio center, which 
promptly and honestly serviced the test radio. 
Again, it may be possible for service shops to 
organize their own self-policing organizations, 
planned for protecting customers, not white- 
washing members, or enabling members to get 
higher prices by displaying certificates and tooth- 
less "Codes of Ethics" and calling themselves 
"Certified' 7 or "Approved." There are some. A 
radio guild functioned in Miami once but folded 
up. "It was a good thing," testified an ex-mem- 
ber. "It cleaned out a lot of crooks." 



Watches 




THE WATCHMAKER'S CRAFT is an ancient and 
honorable one. In theory, the watchmaker is the 
descendant of a true guild. You might say that 
watchmakers have been in the truth business for 
over four hundred years, for the essence of a 
watch most certainly is truth-telling. It would 
therefore be reasonable to expect these craftsmen 
to be as honest as the beautiful machines with 
which they deal. 

But in actual fact, the watchmaker today is f re- 
158 



WATCHES 159 

quently not at all a watchmaker, he is a watch 
repairer. Sometimes he is neither of these, but a 
high-pressure salesman who farms out his repair 
work. Whatever he is, he is permitting his fel- 
lows to prostitute the watchmaking art. His is 
one of the few handcrafts which can flourish even 
in an age of mass production; yet he himself is 
betraying it. 

Just about half of the watch-repair shops 
gypped us. That is what we discovered as we sub- 
mitted to watchmakers in all forty-eight states 
watches with the simplest possible trouble. We 
obtained 462 clean-cut tests; in 236 the watch- 
maker made the simple repair easily and swiftly. 
But 226 of them gave long-winded diagnoses of 
this or that technical difficulty, lying, overcharg- 
ing, performing sleight of hand to wring dollars 
out of the investigators. 

The watches themselves gave no trouble ; they 
were in perfect condition at the start of the in- 
vestigation, and by resort to honest repairmen 
they were kept in as nearly perfect condition as 
the sabotage and clumsy handling of the crooks 
permitted. Yet the watchmakers prescribed un- 
counted cleanings, seventy-six new mainsprings, 



160 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

fourteen new winding springs, ten new winding 
stems, half-a-dozen new click springs, and gave 
fifty other explanations, often bordering on the 
grotesque, of what was wrong or needed. Time 
after time they said things like "thread stripped," 
"cogs gone," "washers worn," "new clutch 
spring." Among the more imaginative diagnoses 
were "this watch is in bad shape," "this has 
slipped its chuck," "has half-a-dozen screws 
loose," "needs all new parts." 

We found 49 per cent of the watch men gyps. 
A veteran of the business insists the true percent- 
age is eighty. 

This betrayal of their trade is all the more ir- 
ritating when you consider how personal and 
cherished an object a watch is. Almost everyone 
has pride in his or her watch; everyone depends 
on it in important moments. Further, the Ameri- 
can watch today is the best in the world ; it is ac- 
curate (a good watch will run within a minute a 
month), reasonable in price, standardized in 
mechanism, easy to repair, and exceedingly dur- 
able for so delicate a machine. All the more 
shame to those dishonest and greedy men who 
mishandle it for profit. 



WATCHES l6l 

Americans own some 75,000,000 watches and 
in normal times buy annually nearly $2,000,000 
worth of new ones from the three big American 
makers. This is no small field for grafters. 

Four watches of different types were used on 
our investigation, carefully selected to present 
to the "expert" the simplest of problems. They 
were all famous American makes : Elgin, Hamil- 
ton, and Waltham. One was a wrist watch. Two 
were bought new for the investigation, one was 
bought secondhand, one was a real old-timer ; but 
all were cleaned and regulated before the tour 
started. They cost f rom $10 to $40 a price range 
which includes 70 per cent of American watches. 

Every watch has what is called a "crown 
wheel." It is the largest wheel you see when you 
open the back of most watches, lying directly at 
the end of the winding knob and shaft. In the 
center of the crown wheel is a very obvious, ac- 
cessible screw. Loosen that screw a couple of 
half-turns and you disconnect the winding gears ; 
you cannot wind the watch. The instant you 
tighten the crown-wheel screw you can wind the 
watch normally. 

Just before entering each shop the investiga- 



1 62 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

tors would loosen the crown-wheel screw. They 
would tell the watchmaker that the watch had 
recently been overhauled and was keeping good 
time until suddenly it refused to wind. They 
asked the watchmaker to "please fix it so it will 
wind again." Was this a fair test? It certainly 
must have been, for 228 repairmen detected the 
trouble at once, tightened the screw, and made 
no charge. Some of these were not even watch- 
makers ; some were assistants or youngsters. One, 
far from being a jeweler, was an itinerant knife- 
sharpener and repairman pulling a child's ex- 
press wagon about San Antonio with soldering 
irons and crude tinkers' tools. He tightened the 
screw with a piece of razor blade. 

CASE 391. Portland, Oregon. "The watch- 
maker's gone on a trip," I was told. "Neither of 
us are watchmakers." The two lads were in their 
late teens. "Look at it anyway," I told them, 
"maybe you can give me an idea what's wrong." 
One, still protesting he was no watchmaker, re- 
moved the back, got a screw driver, and tight- 
ened the screw. "That seems to be your trouble. 
No charge, of course." 



WATCHES 163 

CASE 53. Annapolis, Maryland. Only a girl was 
in the store. "The watchmaker's out for the day," 
she said. I asked her if she knew anything about 
watches. "Not much," she answered. "What is 
the matter with this one? How did it act when 
it went bad?" "Well, it started slipping a little, 
then more, until finally it wouldn't wind at all." 
"Then I do know your trouble isn't a main- 
spring," the girl said. "I do know that much 
about watches. Here, this wheel is loose. Maybe 
if I tighten this screw it'll be all right. There, 
that was the trouble, all right." I offered to pay 
her, but she wouldn't take any money. "We never 
charge for things like that not ever," she said. 

A clerk, not a watch expert, in a Charlotte, 
North Carolina, shop, performed the same task 
with speed and efficiency, refusing to make a 
charge. So did a woman assistant in Salisbury, 
Maryland; so did an eighteen-year-old appren- 
tice in Austin, Minnesota. This case in Concord, 
New Hampshire, is exemplary: 

CASE 512. This is a fine jewelry house, with a 
nice grade of merchandise carefully displayed. 



164 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Two men were employed. One, the watchmaker, 
said: "I could charge you $1.50 and tell you to 
come back in an hour or so, but we don't do busi- 
ness that way. You had a loose screw, that's all. 
It's like a clutch, and when you shifted, it 
wouldn't take hold and wind." There was no 
charge. 

CASE 38. New York City. The watchmaker was 
working back at his bench, and I had to wend 
my way through a maze of furniture and bric- 
a-brac to get there. The old German opened 
the case quickly, squinted at it for the briefest of 
instants, then said : "If I vas crooked, I schwindle 
you goot. I sharge you ad leasdt two dollars, an' 
I say dot de shpindle is busted. But see here. I 
show you someding. I shurprise you. See, mit dis 
shcrew driver I joost tighten on dis shcrew. Now 
she's fixed. Vy should I schwindle people? Not 
for noding I got vatches from de schubway line, 
from de police. I don't sharge you noding. I get 
you next time." 

So easily and quickly the honest and able re- 
pair people disposed of this elementary repair 
job. But others used the occasion to lay on the 



WATCHES 165 

charges for work they well knew was non-ex- 
istent. Nor were all the gyps in back-alley shops ; 
some of the most famous jewelry names out- 
charged the little fellows. In Philadelphia an 
established house asked $9.00; a similar place in 
Detroit wanted $5.00. The high cost of watch 
"repair" ran $4.00 in Dallas, $6.50 in New Or- 
leans, $4.00 in Mobile, $4.50 in Denver and 
Cheyenne. In New York City a new watch with- 
out even the crown-wheel screw loosened was 
presented to a big Fifth Avenue jeweler it drew 
a $10.00 estimate. This store has a big overhead 
and apparently tries to make it up on every 
customer. 

The watchmakers know this condition exists. 
They will tell you so. They told the investigators 
so, as witness these cases : 

CASE 90. Lexington, Kentucky. The jeweler 
tightened the screw and handed the watch back. 
No charge. "Better let me pay you, sir. I'd be 
glad to. Why, I suspect that some jewelers in the 
cities might have told me I needed a new main- 
spring." The watchmaker answered: "You 
wouldn't have had to go to a city. Some watch- 



1 66 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

makers right here would put in a mainspring or 
say they did. I knew what was wrong with your 
watch the minute I turned the winding knob." 

CASE 493. Stamford, Connecticut. This man 
charged nothing. He said: "I could have told 
you this would be a big job and had you leave 
the watch. But there's work enough to be done 
that's legitimate. The watch is all right now. 
There's no charge." When I mentioned the high 
estimate other watchmakers had given me and 
asked if maybe they hadn't seen the loose screw, 
he smiled : "Oh, they saw it all right, make no 
mistake." 

CASE 470. Cleveland, Ohio. The watchmaker 
told me : "The winding mechanism is pretty well 
shot. It needs some new parts; the cost will be 
three dollars." I let him talk a little about how 
much work there was to my job, then I got out 
my screw driver, as I sometimes did, tightened 
the screw, and said : "Why the devil do you want 
to tell me all that hooey about $3.00 worth of 
work?" The fellow looked at me, saw I wasn't 
mad, and said, interestingly: "Well, I've been 
here less than two years. I started out by being 



WATCHES 167 

truthful and honest, but hell! The more honest 
you try to be the less the public believes you. You 
know what was wrong with your watch. But the 
ordinary customer doesn't. If I were to tell him 
the screw was loose and charge him a quarter, 
why, he wouldn't believe me. I've found you do 
a lot better in this business if you do like the rest 
of them make the job sound as if it really 
amounted to something. Then they'll think you're 
a better watchmaker and have more respect for 
you. The customer judges the kind of job you do 
by the price you quote. I know what I'm talking 
about, because I've tried both ways." 

An honest veteran in an upstairs shop in To- 
peka, Kansas, was fluent: 

CASE 293. "Many watchmakers are crooked," 
he told me, "because the public doesn't know 
anything about their business. Whenever you find 
a trade that the public knows nothing about, you 
find a certain type of men going into that trade, 
men who deliberately set out to make money on 
the public's ignorance. If you sharpen a man's 
knife you can't cheat him he knows if you do a 
good job. We aren't all gyps, though. I make a 



1 68 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

good living, but I'd do better if the gyps didn't 
take the cream of the business. That's why I'm 
always willing to show up a careless or crooked 
watchmaker. I wish there were more customers 
like you going around with little tricks and show- 
ing up the crooks. It would help the whole 
trade." 

One crooked repairman displayed the typical 
escapist alibi philosophy of his kind, blaming his 
own sins on a conventional handy goat: 

CASE 183. Canton, Mississippi. "I can fix this 
for $1.50. But why do you have it fixed at all? 
Why not trade it off for a good watch you won't 
always be having trouble with?" "But I just had 
this one fixed," I told him. "Who fixed it? Some- 
body around here?" I told him that I thought it 
had been the Excel Company. "Oh, that damn 
Jew. What do you expect for your money from 
a sheeny like that? You know who's against 'em, 
don't you? You know who's going to chase the 

s out of business, don't you? Hitler! He's the 
man to do it." 

Here I interposed : "Maybe I'd better go back 
to that watchmaker and have him fix it again." 



WATCHES 169 

"Hell, he'll find something else wrong. That 
guy's a crook. But I tell you what I'll do I'll 
fix you up for a dollar." 

As a matter of fact, Jew and Gentile gypped 
us equally. 

Watchmakers who wish to do so can gyp the 
customer in a variety of ways, as we found out on 
our survey. The idea underlying every instance 
of swindling, however, is to pretend that there is 
much more work to be done than is really the 
case and to charge accordingly. In some shops 
that send out their repair work the "watch- 
makers" who interview the customers are spoken 
of in the trade as "take-in" men; they are sales- 
men who sell repairing by posing as watch- 
makers. 

The ingenuity which dishonest watchmakers 
employed in attempts to manufacture repair 
business for themselves was startling. 

CASE 50. Washington, D.C. "This watch won't 
wind," I said to a man whose face was princi- 
pally nose one of the largest noses I've ever 
encountered. The fellow expertly removed the 
back of the case, tightened the screw, and gave 



170 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

the winder a couple of experimental clicks. Then 
he took his screw driver again and loosened the 
same screw. "You need a new winding spring," 
he told me. "It'll cost you $3.50." "What did 
you find with that screw driver?" I asked him. 
"Just checking to be sure I was right," he said. 
The watch was on a velvet pad in front of me. 
"Let's see the screw driver," I said, and before 
the fellow thought he'd handed it to me. "Let's 
see, you tightened this, didn't you, to check it?" 
Whereupon I tightened the screw and started 
winding the watch. "Why, it works all right 
now!" The guy's poise didn't leave him for a 
minute. "Oh yes, it seems to work. But there's 
serious trouble inside." 

CASE 370. San Francisco, California. The watch- 
maker tightened the screw and said : "This 
watch is all out of order. It will cost $3.50 to fix 
it all up." "Does it wind now?" I asked. "It's all 
out of order," he replied. I said : "But I'm not 
worried so much about that. It didn't wind. 
That's what I asked you to fix. Does it wind 
now?" "I wound it," he told me, "but it isn't 
fixed. It'll go bad right away." I tried again, but 



WATCHES 171 

still he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. Noth- 
ing was, of course, except the loose screw. 

CASE 147. Miami, Florida. A small shop. The 
owner said : "You got a stripped winding wheel 
all the teeth are worn out. It'll cost a dollar to 
fix it." I asked him if he had the parts. For reply 
he took out a little box of winding wheels and 
compared several carefully with the wheel from 
my watch. Then with a neat hand-is-quicker- 
than-the-eye technique he put my old winding 
wheel back into the watch. I asked to see "my old 
wheel" ; he handed me a rusty one that had never 
been in my watch. "This isn't mine mine wasn't 
rusty like this," I said. Then I showed him how 
the design on the wheels now in my watch 
matched, proving that no change had been made 
at all. 

Said one honest man in Norfolk, Virginia: 
"With a wrist watch, if you fling your arm sud- 
denly to one side sometimes this little coil spring 
binds. Friction holds it there, and the watch 
won't run. You can fix it by simply tapping it; 
but crooked watchmakers will charge $2.50 to 
$5.00." 



172 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Four successive shops in Key West gave in- 
teresting results. Two said, "New mainspring, 
$2.00." The third, "I'll need two hours to find 
the trouble." The fourth, "The shipper spring is 
broken, $1.50." Our survey revealed that the gyps 
frequently run in local infestations, like boll 
weevil ; the investigators struck four in succession 
in Milwaukee, in Omaha, in Council Bluffs, and 
in San Diego; five in New York, six in Denver 
and Chicago. On the other hand, we encountered 
one after the other, four good shops in San An- 
tonio, five in Topeka, five in the smaller cities of 
Maryland, and twelve in North Carolina's Ra- 
leigh, Lexington, Charlotte, and Salisbury. One 
man's method of business seems to have an effect 
on his neighbor's. 

Here are a few of the varying diagnoses the 
watchmakers made; the things they said our 
watches needed : 

New pinion New winder 

New clutch spring New ratchet 

New click spring Winding stem broken 

New hairspring Winding wheel broken 

New setting wheel Clutch lever broken 

New balance staff "Some pieces broke" 



WATCHES 173 

Loose pivot Sleeve gone 

Loose winding clutch Threads stripped 

Loose screw under crown Screw missing 

wheel Clutch weak 

Six loose screws Wheels binding 

A dozen loose screws Oil gummed up 

Shipper spring broken Watch all out of order 

In none of the 462 tests that form the basis for 
this chapter did any of the watches used by the 
investigators have any of these things wrong. 

In Los Angeles, Patric, without revealing 
fully the nature of the survey, got into friendly 
argument with an old colleague of his National 
Geographic days, Francis Woodworth, now pub- 
licity man for the Los Angeles Chamber of Com- 
merce. Woodworth loyally insisted that local 
ethics were high. 

"All right," said Patric, "you take an hour off 
tomorrow morning. Go to a few jewelers you 
pick at random. Get estimates on having this 
watch fixed. You don't know why it doesn't wind. 
If, after you've made four or five checks, you 
still think Los Angeles jewelers are all honest, 
I'll buy your lunch." 

Woodworth went to three jewelers. Each told 



174 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

him the mainspring was broken. One said the 

mainspring "and other things," and wanted 

$5.00. 

In a small Oregon town one watchmaker ac- 
counted for the frequency of the "broken main- 
spring" diagnosis in this way: 

CASE 389. An old established shop. The owner 
said : "You need a new mainspring. It will be 
$1.50." Later, in the course of a talk on how hon- 
est he was, he said : "It's my custom to charge for 
a mainspring anyway, even if it isn't broken. 
Yours really is broken, but lots of times you can't 
explain to customers just what's wrong because 
they wouldn't understand. But they all under- 
stand a mainspring." 

When the investigators stopped to discuss the 
problem of mainsprings with the watchmakers 
they ran into a variety of contradictory state- 
ments. 

CASE 486. Wheeling, West Virginia. "A dol- 
lar and a half. It's the changes in the weather that 
break mainsprings. There are two bad seasons 
for mainsprings, and this is one of them." 



WATCHES 175 

CASE 148. Sarasota, Florida. "Two dollars. You 
know they've offered $100,000 to anyone 'who 
can tell why mainsprings break. The Horo- 
logical Association has offered it. The manufac- 
turers want to find out. Three manufacturers 
each put up $10,000 to have men watch a main- 
spring until it broke. It was about ten o'clock on 
a spring day when it broke, but there wasn't a 
sound. They used to say it was thunderstorms, but 
it's a big mystery why they break." 

CASE 298. Holland, Michigan. "We can give 
you two types of mainspring. One costs $1.50. 
The other is a much better type, guaranteed for 
one year, for $2.50. 

CASE 225. Chicago, Illinois. "A dollar and a 
quarter for a new mainspring. Mainsprings are 
never guaranteed" "But," I said, "your card 
says you guarantee all work." "Not mainsprings. 
But I tell you what I'll do, I'll put one in for 
$1.00." 

A "guarantee" means little or nothing, as the 
jewelers admitted to our investigators. When 
they were trying to sell a job of repairing they 
played up the guarantee ; but when the investi- 



176 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

gator objected that a prior jeweler had guaran- 
teed his repair job the salesman would explain, 
"Oh, he guaranteed only the part he repaired. 
He didn't guarantee the watch to run." 

Plain and fancy gyppery alternated among the 
dishonest repairmen. Here are some typical in- 
stances : 

CASE 405. Pullman, Washington. "This will cost 
$2.50. There's trouble down inside. It will be 
quite difficult to make this watch wind. It will 
take some new parts and a lot of work." I pressed 
for more details, and finally he said : "There's a 
tooth gone on the winding wheel. That's most of 
your trouble." "How much will you charge just 
for the wheel and let me put it in?" I asked him. 
The fellow rose to his full height with an air 
of injured annoyance. "I suppose you want me 
to go to all the trouble of locating the right size 
wheel, grinding it to fit, perhaps, and then selling 
it to you cheap? We're watchmakers. What do 
you think we're in business for?" "Mister," I 
said, "I've heard your long lecture about how 
hard it is." I tightened the screw and wound 
the watch. His jaw dropped; he looked scared 



WATCHES 177 

as the dickens. There were other customers in 
the store. He said hoarsely, "Step over here a 
minute. Tell me what the idea is." 

CASE 181. Jackson, Mississippi. "The trouble is 
your winding wheels; it'll cost $1.50." He then 
went into a rigmarole about wheels too high, 
wheels binding, worn teeth, copper washers, and 
stripped threads. "Let me see those threads," 
I said. "I do a little work on my car, and I know 
about stripped threads." "Well, if you know all 
about it, why do you come here?" I asked him 
for the wheel and the screw and his tweezers. "If 
you're a watchmaker, what did you come in here 
for?" "I'm not a watchmaker, sir. If I were, I'd 
fix it myself. I just want you to show me what 
you said was the trouble." "Take your watch 
and get out of here, you ! I don't fix a watch for 
a damned inquisitive smart Aleck like you. I feel 
like taking a swing at you." 

Other repair shops which the investigators vis- 
ited displayed a liberal measure of incompetence 
along with their faulty diagnoses : 

CASE 373. San Francisco, California. The young 
watchmaker told me: "Your clutch and pinion 



178 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

are gone. This will cost you $2.50. You can have 
the watch tomorrow. We'll have to get the parts 
from the wholesale house, and it's too late to get 
them today." I remarked that another watch- 
maker had just repaired the watch and said : "I'll 
take it right back to him and tell him you say the 
clutch and pinion are broken." "Just wait a min- 
ute," the man said, very perturbed. "I haven't 
worked here long. Maybe we'd better let the 
master watchmaker look at this watch. Don't 
go. Wait a minute." 

Gyp once, gyp twice. When our investigators 
made second visits to some shops they found a 
duplication of the results of the first visit ex- 
cept in four instances when Patric received hon- 
est treatment and Miss May was cheated. 
Throughout the survey the man encounters 
crookedness in 46 per cent of his cases, the 
woman in 56 per cent. This follows the seemingly 
general rule among repairmen of all kinds: it is 
easier to deceive a woman. Here are two of Miss 
May's experiences in Chicago: 

CASE 477. This large store had fixed a watch for 
Patric and made no charge. An elderly repair- 



WATCHES 179 

man said: "This needs a new balance staff and 
cleaning. The cost is $7.50." He had tightened 
the screw, then loosened it again before he gave 
the watch back to me. 

CASE 480. A short, stout repairman said : "The 
cost of fixing this watch would be $5.00. It needs 
cleaning badly." This place fixed this same watch 
for Patric before without charge. The watch had 
been cleaned since then. 

When the investigators had to have a watch 
brought back to perfect condition, after the man- 
handling it had received, they waited until they 
found a real watchmaker. One such, for fifty 
cents, did a job that a dishonest repairman had 
just asked $3.50 for. 

Once in Chicago Patric inadvertently visited 
the same shop twice. The repairman produced 
a truly priceless diagnosis : 

CASE 235. As soon as I got into this place I re- 
alized I'd been there before. But I pulled out 
the watch, and the fellow looked at it and then 
looked at me. "How much to fix this watch?" I 
asked. "You were here yesterday, weren't you?" 



l8o REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

"Yes." "Well, I'll fix your watch for seventy-five 
cents." (The day before he had wanted $1.25 for 
a new mainspring.) "What's wrong with it?" 
I asked him now. "What did I tell you yester- 
day?" "I forget." "Well," he said, "the same 
thing is wrong with it today." 

As in the other surveys we made, the big cities 
were less honest than the small ones. In the case 
of the watch repairmen the percentage of dis- 
honesty ran at fifty-one in the big cities and 
thirty-eight in the towns under 10,000 popula- 
tion. 

Watch-repair shops sometimes show certifi- 
cates and seals of this or that society. We got the 
idea that these tended to be used chiefly as 
decorations, not necessarily as reliable guaran- 
tees of good work. One man in North Carolina 
told of the Carolina Watchmakers' Guild, saying 
its purpose is to establish reasonable and uni- 
form prices. This watchmaker was honest. An- 
other, in St. Augustine, Florida, displayed a 
diploma of the Horological Institute of Amer- 
ica but this repairman charged $1.50 for "ad- 
justing the crown wheel." Pressed for details as 



WATCHES l8l 

to how one adjusts a wheel, he admitted he had 
merely tightened it. One repairman we encoun- 
tered uses the slogan, "Patronize Us with Confi- 
dence; We Originated Ethics in Watch Repair- 
ing" ; then he asked $1.50 for a wholly unethical 
new mainspring. 

Laws will not reform this condition any more 
readily than they reform other human habits. 
Wisconsin, land of much legislative experiment, 
has a board of watch examiners which issues cer- 
tificates of registration for watchmakers. Yet 
Wisconsin was one of the bad states in the sur- 
vey. In Milwaukee a "registered" jeweler wanted 
$2.00 for a new mainspring. In Madison this was 
duplicated. In Sauk Center the trouble was still 
diagnosed as the mainspring, but the cost was 
$1.25. Of sixteen watchmakers tested in that state 
nine lied. One of the Board of Examiners (who 
himself successfully passed our watch test) spoke 
frankly: "I know you are telling the truth," he 
said. "Those things take time. I've just been 
checking complaints myself around the state. We 
have improved things ; we do clean up a bad case 
now and then. But we had to put a grandfather 
clause in our law, exempting from examination 



1 82 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

all watchmakers who were in business before the 
law passed. I wish more people would do what 
you are doing. At least we try to keep new gyps 
from starting up." 

What recourse has the citizen who has to have 
a watch repaired? 

First of all, avoid need for repair as much as 
possible by taking good care of your watch. 
Wind it in the morning, not at night; that makes 
for more regular winding, and it means that the 
watch is lying quiet during the hours when its 
mainspring is running down. Don't overwind. 
Don't open the back; dust will get in. When you 
have to set your watch, pry up the knob with your 
fingernails, don't pull it out. Set it either forward 
or backward, it doesn't matter. If it's a wrist 
watch, take it off when you wash your hands. 

Have it inspected and cleaned once a year by 
a reliable watchmaker. But how to find the re- 
liable expert? Ask a number of friends for their 
experiences. If you are willing to put some 
effort into it, get several estimates on your repair 
job; be sure to listen closely to the diagnoses as 
well as the price. Demand detailed information. 
Get the watchmaker to write it down. If he can- 



WATCHES 183 

not specify, if he talks about "trouble you 
wouldn't understand, way down inside," go some- 
where else. 

Don't believe the "expert" who says cleaning 
a watch is a big job and will take several days. A 
good man cleans a watch in an hour, using twenty 
minutes for taking it apart and assembling it 
and forty minutes for the chemical baths, rinsing, 
and drying. A wrist watch gets dirty sooner than 
a pocket watch. 

Don't patronize the shop which advertises 
"your watch repaired for $1.00" or for any other 
set price. That's like a surgeon advertising "I 
will perform any operation on you for $25." It 
can't be done. The most responsible watch men 
insist that the shop advertising an all-inclusive 
bargain price does little to your watch except 
maybe pick out a little dust. 

If you know a "time crank," a man who insists 
that his watch must run with split-second ac- 
curacy, ask him; he probably knows a good 
watchmaker. 

Don't be impressed by the swank of a shop. 
Repairing as a business does not demand swank. 
Railroad watch inspectors are likely to be ca- 



184 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

pable, though some may do these inspections only 
for their advertising value. A useful clue in find- 
ing a good shop is the number of watches hang- 
ing on the watch board for regulating. Observe 
that they are running swinging slightly. 

It is obviously impossible for people to learn 
enough about the complicated insides of a watch 
to protect themselves against their present ig- 
norance. But you can protect yourself by insisting 
on specific diagnoses and on itemized bills. Don't 
be afraid to cross-examine and quiz. 

After all, you know, it is your watch and your 
money. 




Typewriters 




THE TYPEWRITER is an essential modern machine 
which has won a place of universal dependence 
and trust. In homes, in offices, in schools, millions 
of them are used for the daily work of our highly 
literate nation. 

In the business of repairing typewriters there 
is a condition of incompetence and dishonesty 
which is different from corresponding conditions 
in the repairing of autos, radios, watches, or 

185 



1 86 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

other mechanisms. It is different in that it is 
shot through chiefly with ignorance and bun- 
gling workmanship, and secondarily with over- 
charging and gyppery. 

When our investigators, John Patric and Lioy 
May, took their guinea-pig typewriters, suffer- 
ing from the simplest, most easily corrected de- 
fects, into 150 repair shops throughout the coun- 
try, they or the typewriters were gypped in 98 
instances. Two times out of three the repairman 
(i) overcharged, or (2) lied about his work in 
order to build up any charge at all, or (3) said 
the machine was "repaired" when actually it was 
in worse condition than before. 

Of these three sins of commission the last- 
named proved the most serious. So harshly did 
these "repair" men treat the typewriters that the 
investigators found it necessary to keep one, for 
actual use in writing their reports, away from 
the shops, never submitting it to any so-called 
experts. They were forced, too, to buy two more 
new machines while on the road; the two 
they started with were soon virtually wrecked 
in the name of adjustment, overhaul, and 
repair. 



TYPEWRITERS 187 

CASE 39. Savannah, Georgia. Typewriter X is 
now in awful shape again. It will write, but that 
is about all. The spring tension is too tight, the 
letters pile up, the machine skips. I cannot write 
accurately. 

CASE 126. Portland, Oregon. Our notes have re- 
ferred constantly to the difficulty we are having 
with the typewriters. They are persistently being 
put into bad order. It has got so with one type- 
writer that we hate to take it to any shop. 

CASE 194. Las Vegas, Nevada. A medium-sized 
shop gave me a bill for $1.50 for "repairing port- 
able, inspection and adjustment, checked and 
tightened." This typewriter is now so bad we ex- 
pect to pick up another one. 

When our findings in the auto repair industry 
were published, some critics remarked that it 
would be impossible to keep a car in first-rate 
condition during thousands of miles of driving. 
But careful preventive service kept the car 
performing at peak efficiency all the way. And 
similarly, in the typewriter survey, the investi- 
gators nineteen times went to the branches or 



1 88 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

authorized stations of the big national typewriter 
manufacturers and had them restore the ma- 
chines to proper condition. 

But this fact stands out, painfully obvious : if 
you take a new radio, or watch, or typewriter, 
or a car in first-rate shape, and submit it to the 
tender ministrations of repairmen, your chief job 
at once becomes the keeping of that test article in 
halfway decent condition. The typewriters, in 
this survey, gave no trouble of their O<WM accord; 
they had all their trouble visited, upon them by 
the repairmen. 

A manufacturer's branch in Columbia, South 
Carolina, repaired the machine. "What have 
you been doing to it?" the mechanic demanded. 
"Somebody's been trying to fix this without 
proper tools. Everything is out of adjustment. 
We usually give free service on little things, but 
if I fixed this right I'd have to charge you. Be 
careful where you take this typewriter. Every 
adjusting nut on it has been chewed to pieces 
by somebody who uses a big old pair of pliers 
instead of the proper wrenches. Some of these 
nuts can't be tightened any more, they're so 
jammed up. Men who do that aren't typewriter 



TYPEWRITERS 189 

men at all. They know people are ignorant about 
the machines and know they can get by with any- 
thing." 

Was our test, the problem we placed before 
the shops, a fair one? On one typewriter the in- 
vestigators loosened a nut underneath which 
stopped the machine from writing. To "repair" 
this called for a small wrench and five seconds 
of time. On another they lifted off, with the fin- 
gers, a wire link underneath which disconnected 
the ribbon feed. To "repair" this called for ten 
seconds' use of the fingers only. On a third they 
slipped the connections and lifted the roller, or 
platen, out of its groove so that it tipped up un- 
evenly. Any typist could "repair" this, without 
any tools, in five seconds. 

Fifty-two shops tackled these elementary prob- 
lems successfully; twenty-nine of those charged 
nothing. 

CASE 98. Palm Springs, California. I took the 
machine into a photo shop to ask where I could 
get it fixed. The proprietor said, "What's wrong? 
Maybe I could fix it." "Are you a typewriter 
man?" I asked. "No. But I fix my own some- 



190 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

times. I used to be a Hollywood cameraman, and 
on location we had to fix our own cameras. Me- 
chanical principles are the same in all mechan- 
ical devices. Here, this is your trouble, this loose 
link. It hooks on somewhere. There, that ought 
to do it. No, you don't owe me anything for a 
little accommodation like that." 

CASE 1 1 8. Oakland, California. The mechanic 
was extremely courteous. "How much do I owe 
you?" "Nothing. All I had to do was slip a wire 
link back on." 

CASE 113. San Francisco, California. "There 
wasn't anything wrong with your typewriter. A 
little wire that lifts the ribbon had just come un- 
hooked. We hate to charge for such simple jobs, 
but we've got a big overhead, and we can't always 
let them go out for nothing. I guess we'll call it 
square for fifty cents." 

The problem was simple and fair enough, as 
simple and fair as tightening a loose screw in a 
door hinge. And here are some of the field re- 
ports of what happened. They happened, as in 
all fields we have studied, more often to the 



TYPEWRITERS 191 

woman than to the man ; he was gypped six out of 
ten times, she seven out of ten. 

CASE 8. Baltimore, Maryland. This large office 
supply house (a factory branch) told me they 
couldn't fix the machine for two hours. When I 
returned I was told, "The brackets and all the 
underparts were bent." He gave me a bill for 
$1.50, reading, "escapement dog," "operating 
links and lever bent and loose." When I insisted 
that he show me on the machine what had been 
wrong, he said, "It's pretty technical for you to 
understand, and it would be hard to show you." 

This "too technical" alibi occurred four times 
among the typewriter gyps as well as many times 
among the radio and watch gyps. Another thing: 
these men hate to do any work in front of the cus- 
tomer ; the worst gyps usually get the customer 
out of the way even before making an examina- 
tion. 

CASE 17. New Rochelle, New York. "Come back 
in an hour and I'll give you an estimate." And 
when I returned, "We can't do the necessary 
work on the machine till tomorrow afternoon. It 



192 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

may be quite a job." I told him I couldn't leave 
the typewriter. He quickly opened the case and 
took from the platen a piece of paper which he 
crumpled in his hand. I saw he had typed an 
even line of letters, something that could not be 
done when I brought the machine in. "You've 
found my trouble, then," I said happily. "No," 
he replied, fussed, "we wrote those letters by 
moving the carriage at each letter." What had 
happened was that he had found and tightened 
the loose screw, written a line, loosened the screw 
again, and forgot to remove his test sheet. 

CASE 19. New.York City. "This machine," I said, 
"won't write. The only thing I can see that might 
be wrong is this loose nut. Do you suppose that's 
the trouble?" Without tightening the nut to try 
it, he said, "Can you leave it for a couple of hours 
and I'll give it a check?" When I returned he 
charged me $1.50. "That loose nut had something 
to do with it but not much. Your trouble was a 
piece of dirt lodged in the escapement. You 
aren't paying for the removal of the dirt or tight- 
ening the nut but for my skill in finding that piece 
of dirt." Of course there was no piece of dirt. 



TYPEWRITERS 193 

Six times, like that, Patric pointed out the 
loose nut to the repairman. All six denied that 
the nut was the cause of the difficulty. 

By their acts you can get a fair line on their 
standing as repairmen. Here are three successive 
clear cases, all in Minneapolis, occurring at 2:30 
P.M. June 11,9:45 A.M. June 12, and 2 P.M. June 
12. Within twenty-four hours these three shops 
gypped the investigators out of $6.10. Note, too, 
the evasion of the insistent request for the old 
parts, supposedly replaced. This request natur- 
ally is an active irritant to repairmen who have 
replaced nothing. These cases happened to the 
woman, using the machine with the platen askew. 

CASE 1 66. Minneapolis, Minnesota. "You needed 
new variable parts. We put them in and adjusted 
the machine. It works all right now. The charge 
is $1.35 for parts and $1.00 for labor." "Give me 
a receipt, please, and I'd like the old parts." 
"They were thrown out with the trash." "Will 
you please get them for me?" "We couldn't. 
They were too small. That trash has been thrown 
out." "Then please write on the receipt 'old parts 
thrown away.' " "We won't do it." "Why? I 



194 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

paid for the new ones." "We won't do it. We 
haven't had a customer like you in twenty years. 
Come back tomorrow; we'll try to find them." 
But when I went back the next day they said they 
couldn't find them. 

CASE 167. Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I re- 
turned to this typical shop my bill was $1.25. 
They said "we adjusted the escapement and fixed 
the platen," and they had no hesitancy about 
writing this on the bill. This same typewriter is 
now certainly supposed to be in good repair. 

CASE 1 68. Minneapolis, Minnesota. It looks as 
if this out-of-place platen, which any stenog- 
rapher could fix for herself, reveals that the cus- 
tomer is a sucker. The head mechanic said the 
bill was $2.50. "We adjusted the moving car- 
riage, adjusted the tabulator, and checked it in 
general." 

In Laredo, Texas, the request for the old parts 
resulted in this : 

CASE 86. "Your machine's finished. I had to put 
in a couple of new parts $1.35." "Fine, may I 
have the old parts?" The fellow looked around. 



TYPEWRITERS 195 

"Guess they must be lost." "Lost! How could 
that be? You just replaced them ten minutes 
ago." He looked some more; and when I re- 
turned to the shop he said, "I looked high and 
low for the bumper, but I can't find it." 
"Bumper?" I asked. "You spoke of parts, not 
part. What was the other?" "I didn't say 'parts,' 
I said 'part,' and we can't find it. Musta threw it 
out." 

On one of the machines, as has been said, the 
test was the simple lifting off of a wire link. This 
link is made by the factory with a certain bend 
in it, and it caused the bungling mechanics no 
end of trouble and confusion. One man replaced 
it so that it fouled other parts and the typewriter 
would not write capitals. Others forced it back 
so roughly as to disarrange adjacent mechanisms. 
Still others bent and twisted it hopelessly out of 
shape and out of correct functioning. 

CASE 128. Seattle, Washington. "Your ribbon 
link was pretty badly bent and we had to 
straighten it out." "Will you show me?" He did. 
Again the link was badly messed up by a me- 
chanic who hadn't the slightest idea how to hook 



196 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

it up. I couldn't help showing my annoyance, for 
this means another trip to a factory branch. "For 
gosh sakes, if you had to bend it all wrong, why 
didn't you just leave it as it was and say you didn't 
know how to fix it?" "But it was all bent out of 
shape." "Oh, my gosh, it wasn't/ That bichrome 
link is supposed to have a bend in it, it's a factory 
bend, and the link slips on and off with the fin- 
gers when you throw the key on the stencil posi- 
tion. Write me out a receipt." "No, I don't want 
your money. But don't you come in here again 
to get anything fixed!" 

A man in Lewiston, Idaho, who had charged 
only fifty cents for "straightening connecting 
link and some other things down underneath," 
refused to give any receipt for the job. This was a 
brand-new typewriter. At first he said he "had to 
take off quite a few parts to reach the trouble." 
Asked for a detailed receipt, he said, "Oh, such 
a little job, I guess we won't charge this time." 

The question of prices charged turns up sur- 
prising angles. The investigators ran into several 
indications of local price agreements among the 
merchants of typewriter repair. 



TYPEWRITERS 197 

CASE 162. Cleveland, Ohio. The bill for "adjust- 
ing escapement, replacing two wires, and adjust- 
ing the ribbon movement" was $1.50. I had to 
insist several times that the receipt include all 
those items and then said, "Why do you find it 
necessary to lie so?" They got pretty mad, and 
the manager said, "I'll tell you something. The 
typewriter association here has a minimum 
charge of $1.50 to fix anything on any type- 



writer." 



Yet the next shop in Cleveland asked fifty 
cents. This man, incidentally, was unable to re- 
place the link, and when Patric showed him how 
simple it was he exclaimed angrily, "I don't like 
a fellow to come in here and make a fool out of 
me. Get out and don't come back." 

In San Francisco one shop asked $1.00 and ad- 
mitted the job would take only five minutes. "A 
dollar is the minimum charge all over the city. 
It's trade custom." The next shop, which did a 
good job on the machine, remarked, "They tried 
to get us to charge a minimum, but I've been in 
this business thirty years. You can't build good 
will that way. Typewriters aren't much different 



198 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

from fifteen years ago, and I've never yet seen 
a typewriter that has worn out." 

"A dollar and a half is the minimum all over 
this city," said a man in Chicago. "We do have 
a minimum charge of $1.00," said another in 
Memphis, "but for anything as simple as this 
we really couldn't charge anything." 

In Albuquerque, New Mexico (Case 97), a 
clerk insisted that the minimum charge was 
$1.25, "but we are making this job seventy- five 
cents; it was quite a job." I said, "Rubbish," and 
in ten seconds disconnected the link and in ten 
more put it back. "Now wasn't that all there was 
to it?" "Under the circumstances," said the man- 
ager of the store, "there should be no charge at 
all. There is a usual $1.25 minimum by sort of 
agreement among typewriter men." 

Confronted with their gyppery, the dishonest 
men went through sundry contortions. 

CASE 177. Trenton, New Jersey. This small shop 
charged seventy-five cents for putting in a "new 
ribbon link" but of course could not find "the 
old one." So I asked the fellow why he lied. 



TYPEWRITERS 199 

"Well, hell, our minimum price is seventy-five 
cents. I could find that broken link, but my time 
is worth $1.25 an hour and I'm not going out 
there looking for any link." "All right, I'll give 
you $2.00 if you find that broken link." "You get 
out of here and stay out. I don't want customers 
like you." Finally he offered me the seventy-five 
cents back, but I preferred to keep the lying re- 
ceipt. 

A bungler in Portland, Oregon (Case 123), 
tried vainly with pliers to hook up the link, not 
realizing that he had to put the machine on sten- 
cil to do so. Then he announced the link was bent, 
and he would have to "correct" it. 

I knew what that meant, so I stopped him and 
showed how easily the link is replaced with the 
fingers. "Well," he said defensively, "I knew 
what was wrong, didn't I? Shouldn't I get paid 
for what took so long for me to learn?" "Sure 
you should. Here's your fifty cents." "Oh, I don't 
mean from you, I mean from the ordinary cus- 
tomer who doesn't know anything about type- 
writers." "You mean the more ignorant a cus- 
tomer is the more he ought to pay?" "Why er 



200 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

no, not at all. But you take doctors, they charge 
$5.00, and don't do anything." 

Said one in Bismarck, North Dakota, defend- 
ing his unnecessary tale of elaborate repairs, 
"You can't make any job sound too simple, it's 
bad business." 

And in Memphis a guilty repairman gave still 
another excuse for his admitted attempt to gyp. 

CASE 62. "Your ribbon link was disconnected. 
It's necessary to take the whole back off the ma- 
chine and remove the carriage to get it back 
$1.25." So I threw the machine to stencil and 
removed the link. "Now she's loose," I said, "as 
she was when I brought her in. Watch care- 
fully." With my fingers I quickly put the link 
back. "Now she's fixed, in half a jiffy, without 
taking off the back, without removing the car- 
riage, without tools. No sir, I don't quarrel with 
you if you charge me $1.25 and say the job took 
only a minute; but I do object to the story about 
taking off the back and the carriage. Write me 
a receipt just that way." "We won't take your 
money on that basis. To be frank, I'm not famil- 
iar with this machine. But we have a tremendous 



TYPEWRITERS 2OI 

overhead; <we pay more than $600 a year in taxes 
and we have to get that back some 



In New Orleans an honest repairman esti- 
mated that not 4 per cent of the typewriter me- 
chanics knew their business in that city. In Port- 
land, Oregon, evidence partly supporting that 
comment showed when a clerk stated that the air- 
plane companies were drawing off the best type- 
writer men for training in assembling car- 
buretors. "Why should we work for $30 a week 
when we can get up to $50 in plane factories?" 

Before the actual survey commenced Patric 
took one machine, in perfectly good condition, 
to three different shops with the request that they 
overhaul it and put it in good shape. The first 
charged $1.50, the second $1.60, and the third 
$1.50; one spoke of "correcting a bad shift," 
another poured on so much oil that it dripped for 
days afterward. It is impossible to say whether 
these men were chiefly dishonest or whether they 
were chiefly incapable. They were certainly un- 
satisfactory as repairmen. If the first one did a 
good job, the second and third were obviously 
dishonest; if the third man was honest, the first 



202 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

two were obviously incapable. Their own work 
convicts two out of these three. 

Insofar as there are able mechanics in this 
field, they appear to be most numerous in the 
local factory branches or accredited agents of 
the big manufacturers. In typewriter repairing 
the difference between the small independent and 
the factory agent runs, on our evidence, in favor 
of the factory agent. The independents averaged 
70 per cent incapable or dishonest, the factory 
representatives 37 per cent. The accredited 
agents markedly tended to repair the machine 
and charge nothing or very little and to do good 
work. A few were gyps ; one in Pittsfield, Massa- 
chusetts, refused to give a receipt on the letter- 
head of the company he represented, saying he 
was not allowed to use the letterhead u for that 
purpose." But another, honest, in Spokane, in- 
formed us that his company wanted no profit on 
the service department and gave bonuses if it 
broke even. 

In typewriter repairing honesty seems to pay; 
the honest shops prosper and are large and well- 
equipped. 

What constructive suggestion arises out of this 



TYPEWRITERS 203 

research? It is obviously pointless to urge people 
to know more about their typewriters, because 
they simply won't bother to take the time. It will 
help, obviously, to insist on return of the used 
parts allegedly replaced; it will help to insist on 
receipted bills detailed on company stationery. 
Unhappily, to be skeptical and demand reasons 
always seems to help. But beyond those warnings 
our investigators, for their own benefit, are de- 
termined to take their typewriters for repair to 
the accredited representative of the manufac- 
turer. 

It is the manufacturers to whom we should 
look, in the last analysis, for the curing of these 
ills. 




First and last drawings in a cartoon strip by Walt Disney, reproduced 
from autographed originals. Donald Duck lives in Hollywood where 
we encountered America's most ambitious gyps. Donald's itemized bill 
is two feet long. We had five in a row, $25 each for a fifty-cent job. 



**~^**^**B^^*i^mfm*mm**ami^*mam^^mamm*mmKmmmmfa^maaa^amimimmi^tmmiKm 

Vacuum Cleaners and 
Electric Irons 




IN THE COURSE of our sampling of the country's 
repair shops we made an attempt to test the re- 
liability and honesty of the men servicing vac- 
uum cleaners and electric irons. Nominally, the 
survey resulted in visits to 141 shops which 
handle one or the other type of these appliances. 
The general trend of our tests seems to show that 
the repairmen in these two industries, with much 
closer ties to the manufacturers, are the more re- 

204 



VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 205 

liable for it. Practically a number of factors com- 
bined to prevent us from drawing the definite 
conclusions which we were able to draw from 
the other surveys. 

In general, the shops that do repair work on 
these two appliances are of a better grade and 
have less interest in getting profits out of repair 
work as such. They are often well-established 
electrical stores, or local power company offices, 
or agents of the manufacturers. Many shops, we 
found, service only the make of iron or vacuum 
cleaner which they sell. In this situation they 
have a greater incentive to do honest, capable 
work. 

In nearly a quarter of the 141 shops we visited 
we were referred to another repair shop, or we 
were told to send the appliance in to the manu- 
facturer for repairs, or the repairman was out 
on a job, or the shop wouldn't service our brand 
of electric iron or vacuum cleaner. These fre- 
quent cases in which no actual test was forthcom- 
ing cut down the scope of our investigation in 
this field considerably. 

Unsatisfactory also were the only fair methods 
we could devise of decommissioning the elec- 



206 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

trie iron and the vacuum cleaner. In the case of 
the iron, the trouble was that it wouldn't always 
stay decommissioned. What we had done to cre- 
ate a simply located defect was to disconnect a 
wire in the plug. To make things look realistic 
we had then shorted the wires across the post of a 
storage battery so that the end of the wire had 
fused a little, as wires do when they become very 
hot when a few strands carry the whole load. The 
investigators would leave the iron at repair shops 
with the story that "it heats spasmodically," 
which would be true. This method yielded a 
number of clear-cut tests. But many times, when 
the cord was turned and twisted, the disconnected 
wire, though loose, would make contact. Thus 
many repairmen, finding the iron heated all 
right, would not bother to take the plug apart 
and would merely tell the investigators that "it 
must be your socket at home." But we made 
enough tests to convince us that here the honest 
repairmen outnumbered the gyps. 

The vaccum-cleaner test consisted of simply 
rolling the belt off the drive wheel, so that the 
machine ran and sucked air but picked up little 
dirt. Of the eighty vacuum-cleaner shops we 



VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 207 

visited about half handled the problem instantly 
and reasonably; a quarter of them did not, either 
charging exorbitantly or telling tall stories; and 
another fourth did not get around to looking at 
the machine at all, either telling us that they 
handled only one make or that we should send it 
to a power company. These somewhat incon- 
clusive returns appear to rate the repairmen in 
these fields considerably above the average. 

Unlike the auto investigation, which revealed 
that large and impressive garages were less hon- 
est than the small repair shops, we found the situ- 
ation here somewhat different. We were seldom 
gypped by the big merchandisers. 

A good reason as to why the power and electric 
companies tend to give capable if somewhat inac- 
cessible service was put forth by one repairman 
in Wheeling, West Virginia, to whom we took 
our "decommissioned" electric iron. He told us: 
"Take it to the electric company, they'll fix it 
free, probably give you a cord if you need one. 
Those electric irons take more juice than a 
cleaner, a washing machine, a radio, and a lot 
of lights all put together. They use juice, irons 
do. So the electric companies like to keep 'em 



208 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

running. Take it over there. We can't compete 
with 'em, so we don't." Many of the manufac- 
turers' agents in these two fields appeared to be 
much more responsible than similar agents in 
other fields. Possibly the bond between agent and 
manufacturer is stronger and closer here than 
anywhere else. 

In one respect did the repairmen in these fields 
notably revert to type. When cases of gyppery 
did crop up, it was much more likely to happen 
to the woman investigator. In Trinidad, Colo- 
rado, a vacuum-cleaner repairman charged her 
$1.53 for "repairs inside the pipe." In Salt Lake 
City another charged her $4.50 for "service." But 
in general, with these two appliances, the verdict 
was more apt to be: (Savannah, Georgia.) "No, 
I'm sorry, we usually send those jobs to the 
Savannah Electric and Power Company, but 
they usually want a week to do any kind of re- 
pair job." (Spokane, Washington.) "It was a 
simple job, all fixed now; just twenty-five cents." 
(Springfield, Illinois.) "Your belt was off 
that was all that was wrong no charge for 
that." (Cheyenne, Wyoming.) "Sorry, but we 
don't repair any other make but our own." (Lex- 



VACUUM CLEANERS AND ELECTRIC IRONS 209 

ington, North Carolina.) "Lady, we've tested 
this iron. It's still very hot. It doesn't seem to 
have a thing wrong with it. See if your socket is 
all right in your home. 

The factor of time comes into these two sur- 
veys. The vacuum cleaner is a big thing to carry 
around, and it took the investigators two or three 
times as long to park, leave the "prop," call back, 
etc., as it did to make the more important car 
checks. Similarly, it was difficult to get immedi- 
ate service on both the cleaner and the electric 
iron. The time factor played some part in reduc- 
ing the scope of these surveys. The fact that these 
were simpler mechanisms than cars, radios, or 
watches harder to gyp you on, for that reason 
undoubtedly played a part. But the lack of sweep 
and conclusiveness notwithstanding, these sur- 
veys seemed to give an indication, at least, that 
the closer the repairman and the manufacturer 
are bound together, the more honest and capable 
will the service be in that industry. 





8 What Is Your Experience! 




INTO THE WILD CONTROVERSY which followed 

instantly upon the first appearance of the repair- 
man stories both the general reading public and 
repairmen themselves plunged with abandon. 
The trades covered by our investigation have set 
up angry howls of protest. But their brickbats 
were offset by an extraordinary avalanche of 
bouquets, corroboration, and thoughtful com- 
ments from the vast majority of the general pub- 



210 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 211 

lie. "A fine piece of work" . . . "It will save 
motorists millions" . . . "My experience is 
identical." . . . "You didn't go jar enough." 
. . . "The exposure was long overdue." Thus 
car owners by the hundreds voice their approval. 
Many even go the investigators one better 
with repairman experiences of their own: 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A garageman said it 
would cost $40 to fix my starter. I waited until I got 
home. My neighborhood mechanic found only a 
broken wire, which he soldered for fifty cents. 

Milton, New York. I stalled my car on the streets 
of New York City and paid $22 for new spark plugs, 
condensers, and I don't know what all. Back in 
Milton, my own auto service looked the car over 
and found the only darn thing they'd done was to 
install a new battery cable. 

Shreveport, Louisiana. The battery company I 
asked to test the efficiency of my carburetor and igni- 
tion had their exhaust analyzer set to register poor 
results. 

Brooklyn, New York. My car was in the shop 
when the story came out, so I was wary. I paid the 
bill, $9.60, had it itemized, then consulted two other 



212 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

mechanics. Both said the job had never been done 
at all. In the end the big company the first man was 
operating under made him return my money. 

And many more automobile owners continue 
this same theme with comments such as: "My 
experience has paralleled this test for years." 
. . . "I have found plenty of the things you have 
described." 

This letter from a housewife indicates that re- 
pairmen have something tangible to gain in offer- 
ing honest service : 

If repairmen would only realize that if they re- 
duce their prices and provide honest work their trade 
would increase substantially. 

Were it not for experiences I have had, I would 
take to the repair shop two watches, a drink mixer, 
a radiant heater, a small radio. All have some small 
defect, but my lean purse can't stand the cost of 
repair plus the risk that the things probably won't 
work very long after being fixed. So I put the articles 
away on the shelf until that future date when I win 
a soap contest and can afford to have everything 
repaired. 

Now I'm just an ordinary consumer. I questioned 
twenty of my friends about this matter. Every single 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 213 

one had at least two articles they were withholding 
from repair for the same reason as I. A very general 
comment was: "It's cheaper to buy a new one than 
have the used one repaired." 

Now multiply me and my friends by all the people 
in the country who must have similar instances. The 
repairmen would be snowed under with work if they 
would prove to the customer that he can get efficient 
work at a fair price. 

Proof that the general idea is being put to 
practical use continues to pour in from all parts 
of the country. Says a Connecticut garageman: 
"Dozens of customers have asked for their old 
parts. They never did before." A Minnesota in- 
structor in auto mechanics writes: "I am using 
your set of rules to give to friends who ask my 
advice about repairs on vacation treks." The 
managing editor of a Pittsburgh newspaper says 
that many car dealers, while upset by the first 
article, had service departments put up signs: 
"Used Parts Returned"; "Our Charges Are 
Itemized," etc. 

An automotive editor in Detroit writes : 

If you, in your story, did .nothing more for the 
automobile business than to allow us, who live in this 



214 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

business, to make use of your story to point out to 
the average car dealer that there was money in ren- 
dering proper service and treating their customers 
right, your story was worth all of the time, effort, 
and expense entailed in preparing it. The industry 
should give you a universal vote of thanks for arous- 
ing thousands of dealers out of the lethargy of self- 
complacency caused by an over-prosperous car model 
year. 

As the answer to "recent charges of racketeer- 
ing in repair work" Consolidated Edison is con- 
sidering a plan to- establish a separate company 
which would handle the repair and maintenance 
of electrical appliances, with standard prices and 
supervised, tested, and certified work. 

Not all agree with the substance of the stories. 
From Chicago, Illinois: 

For childish gullibility it seems to me the program 
of your two infants is about tops. All through their 
journey they advertise themselves as "suckers." Take 
your car to the proper place, treat the mechanics 
fairly, and act like you're not a sucker, even though 
you may be one, and you'll find the average garage- 
man as fair and square a man to deal with as the 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 215 

average in most other professions ... at least such 
has been my experience. 

A minister most interestingly writes from 
Fitchburg, Massachusetts: 

I read with interest the article on dishonest ga- 
ragemen with double interest, in fact, since my ex- 
perience has been so different. I do not question the 
fairness of your test nor the validity of the conclu- 
sions, but I do question the adequacy of the seven 
suggestions to meet the situation. For these sugges- 
tions, when tried alone, are the very things to breed 
the dishonesty which you are exposing. 

I have driven well over a quarter of a million 
miles. You can imagine that the get-out-and-get- 
under command is an old one with me. But I am no 
more mechanical than the proverbial woman and, 
hence, am at the mercy of any and every garageman. 

They have treated me regally, but not because I 
have watched them, or asked them for itemized bills, 
or the return of my used parts, but because they have 
become friends. While a man is working on my car 
I tell him about my family, he tells me about his. I 
seldom reveal that I am a minister, because I despise 
patronage on this account, but I find that nine times 
out of ten the repairmen warm up to friendship. 



2l6 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

It would be pretty small of a man to act friendly 
in order to be treated white. But when a fellow 
naturally sees in every garageman a friend and a 
human being with dreams and hopes and fears like 
other men, then the best and not the base in that man 
comes to the surface. Suspicion breeds fear and an- 
ger, and these. release the worst in a man. Friendship 
draws out the finer qualities. 

Of course there are exceptions. In downtown Bos- 
ton snow plows walled me in with five-foot banks of 
snow last winter. I paid $5.00 for a garageman who 
took twenty minutes to tow me out. But the next time 
I am in that section of the city I shall go in there to 
buy some gas and pick up the conversation where we 
left off. He may become my friend yet, and a re- 
morseful conscience may begin to work, and possibly 
some besnowed autoists will not be asked quite so 
much next winter. Who knows ? 

A few readers sat down and directed blasts 
against us that were as wrathful as this one from 
Atlanta, Georgia: 

I find I've been gypped, brother, and in the worst 
way. It took this malicious editorial on a sub- 
ject with which I am thoroughly informed to open 
my poor deluded eyes. I had not the remotest sus- 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 217 

picion that you were a bunch of communists who take 
advantage of your position to publicly knock and 
falsely create a mistrust of your fellow Americans. 
What is the purpose of this wholly unsound and UN- 
AMERICAN piece of BALLYHOO? Are you try- 
ing to start a war of your own by insulting human 
intelligence and good old AMERICAN integrity? 
There are quite a few smart-alecks among us like 
your investigators . . . they deserve a good gypping 
that they, too, seldom get. I resent heartily and 
healthily any poor misled mortal who spends his 
worthless time in such unsound investigation. 

On the other hand, here is a letter from Oak 
Park, Illinois, which is more typical of the great 
majority of the vast correspondence we are re- 
ceiving concerning the repairman survey. 

Congratulations. It is good to know that at last 
someone is willing to champion the people's cause 
against the "gyp" element of the business world. 
Unwittingly these business people are bringing about 
the kind of governmental restrictions on private en- 
terprise which they all abhor. Perhaps your articles 
will help them to clean up their own house, but at 
any rate they will serve to show the people some of 



2l8 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

the evils lurking behind the gaudy illuminated signs 
of our respected business streets. 



Cincinnati, Ohio. Since reading your "Will Gyp 
You" articles we have turned into skeptical cus- 
tomers. 

We had a smashed fender. A large repair shop 
wanted $12.50. A smaller one did the job in a first* 
class manner for $6.50. 

A radio repairman insisted our car radio needed 
a new speaker and a condenser at $12. An honest 
fellow fixed it up for $1.30. 

You saved us $16.70, here in Cincinnati. Thanks. 

From Grand Rapids, Michigan, a minister 
writes : 

Recently many things you revealed in your radio 
story were verified. Our Public Address System 
needed repairs. One repairman was certain that the 
transformer, tube, fuse, and perhaps a few con- 
densers were burned out. His estimate was nothing 
less than $10 nor more than $13. 

When we heard this man talk, your article was 
vividly recalled. It was your article that influenced 
our decision, and we sought another repairman. The 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 219 

second repairman did the job for $4.58. Only a con- 
denser was burned out. Thanks to you, we were not 
gypped. 

New York. Our radio went bad. It was a big one, 
but my husband loaded it into our car and took it 
to a radio shop up beyond 2OOth Street. The man 
took out all the eight tubes, tested them on his tube 
tester, and said seven were bad. My husband said: 
"If I hadn't read that story, I'd have bought those 
seven tubes. But now I'll be darned if I will." Later 
he had the tubes tested at Macy's. Only two were 
bad. I bought two new tubes at seventy-five cents 
each less than the radio shop wanted and it's 
been playing fine ever since." 

Cleveland, Ohio. That radio story saved me $7.70. 
I've got an expensive portable, and it didn't play. I 
took it to a shop here in Cleveland, and they wanted 
$10 to fix it. Having read that story, and having sus- 
picioned radio shops for a long time, I didn't leave 
it. I remembered that the investigators had received 
more honest treatment in small shops, so when I 
passed through a little town on my vacation a couple 
of weeks later I took my radio to a shop there. I 
told them: "I ought to have had this radio fixed 



220 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

in Cleveland, but I mistrusted the shop. I haven't 
been in this town long, but I've heard you could be 
trusted." When I picked up the radio on the way 
back the bill was just $2.30. 

Many readers went on to suggest other fields 
which in their opinion could stand investigation. 
A doctor in Honolulu writes : 

Congratulations! Your cases could be multiplied 
by the dozens among my friends. It is a most pleas- 
ing trend of investigation. I wish to suggest that you 
carry it further, including various types of doctors, 
dentists, druggists, and beauty parlors. Maybe you 
will scare some into being reasonably honest for a 
time. 

Requests that we investigate doctors far out- 
number all others. Says a Wyoming serviceman: 
"Unfortunately we garagemen that make errors 
must live with them or live them down. A doctor 
buries his." Repeatedly we were asked to extend 
our investigation into these fields among others : 

Refrigeration repairmen men 

Magazine editorial staffs Spiritualistic mediums 

and writers Fur repair 

Sewing-machine repair- Real estate 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 221 

Chauffeurs Painters 

Pharmacists Butchers 

Union labor Shoemakers 

Auto finance Cake mixers 

Hearing devices Bankers 

Welders Lawyers 

Electricians Publishers 

A Minneapolis housewife writes in : 

Your courage amazes me. Everyone knows we 
are a nation of goats that resigns itself to its evil, 
avoids repairs to the danger point, finally calls a re- 
pairman and then moans. F'gosh sakes, expose 
plumbers. They may be funny in cartoons, but I've 
never seen the humor since I paid fifteen dollars to 
have a sink raised seven inches. 

Newspapers all over the country reprinted 
the repairman stories, and dozens of them had 
penetrating editorial comment to make on the 
subject. Said the New York Times: "A shocking 
lack of ethics in a number of garages and repair 
stations in different sections of the country is 
revealed performs a real service for motorists. 
It might be suggested that fewer motorists would 
be victimized if they knew a little more about 



222 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

the workings of the cars they drive. Best of all 
would be the spread of a little elementary hon- 
esty to the repair stations which now lack it." 

The Duluth News-Tribune commented: 
"This muckraking of mechanical graft may have 
a good effect, and it would be well for the two 
trades attacked to do less howling and more 
housecleaning. No auto or radio owner who has 
had to have repairs made doubts that there is 
much truth in the expose, but it should be re- 
peated that the whole trade should not be spat- 
tered with the mud that is thrown. Few lines of 
business, taken as a whole, are even candidates 
for, much less entitled to, halos." 

An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 
said: "The . . . article, by calling attention to 
the tricks employed, should help in putting the 
public on the alert and also in discouraging the 
cheats. It would be a valuable service, however, 
if honest repairmen could contrive some means 
of policing their industry. Automobile manu- 
facturers also have a stake in trying to clean up 
this situation, since the public's satisfaction or 
dissatisfaction with their product depends to a 
large extent on the mechanics who service it." 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 223 

From the Joplin, Missouri, Globe: "There are 
honest automobile repairmen. Any number of 
them. And the ones who are honest will be glad 
to have the unscrupulous and dishonest members 
of their craft castigated." 

There have been some complaints from the 
general public, many more from the men in the 
trade, that the number of tests the investigators 
made was "too absurdly small" to warrant such 
sweeping conclusions. An advertising man in 
Rosemont, Pennsylvania, says: "This is one of 
the worst surveys I have ever seen only 347 out 
of 200,000. How was the sampling made?" We 
can assure him that repair shops were chosen 
at random, just as they would be picked by any 
stranger whose car suddenly breaks down and 
who fears to drive it farther. And we might re- 
mind him that Dr. Gallup can predict the politi- 
cal heartbeat of 50,000,000 American voters by 
feeling the pulse of what is, comparatively, an 
even smaller sample. Critics of the survey might 
note that no one in the United States has made 
any other similar investigation or advanced any 
other proved facts and figures in refutation. Dur- 
ing the summer the Montreal Standard con- 



224 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

ducted a similar investigation in Canadian ga- 
rages. Of forty-two tested, twenty-two were 
found to be gyps. 

The ideal survey, of course, would have been 
one that covered all of this country's repair shops. 
Ours was admittedly a sampling. But indirectly 
we are getting a wider and wider survey all the 
time: through the comments of the American 
motorists who have written by the hundreds, 
through the letters of radio owners and of watch 
owners. So overwhelmingly in our favor has been 
the corroboratory evidence which they submit 
that our original sampling of repair-shop ethics 
takes on new and added significance as time 
goes on. 

Many readers find it impossible to accept the 
percentages of gyppery which the investigators 
found. Some offer their own guesses. Here are 
some in the case of the automobile survey, read- 
ing from black to white : 

Percentage 

of Gyppery 

Estimated 

Garageman in Yonkers, New 
90 per cent York : Nine out of ten will gyp you 
but not around here. 



WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE? 225 

Shop foreman in Mt. Kisco, New 
80 per cent York: Conservative. It's four out 

of every five. 

, Car dealer in Sioux City. Iowa : 

60 per cent 

Three out of every nve. 

Reader in Paoli, Pennsylvania: 
37 per cent 

Less than 37 per cent are dishonest. 

Parts wholesaler, Beaver Falls, 
i o per cent Pennsylvania: Not ten per cent in 

our area overcharge. 

Automotive editor, Detroit, 
Michigan: Automobile mechanics 
are a guileless, wholly honest class 
of citizens. 

If you don't like our figure of 63 per cent, here 
are plenty of alternatives! 

As a result of our experience, we advised car 
owners to seek out small garages in little towns 
for honest service. Several correspondents take 
issue with that advice. Says a Philadelphian: 
"The greasy mechanic with only a screw driver 
and a pair of pliers is as outmoded on modern 
cars as a witch doctor." To this we reply that 
while honesty also seems outmoded, there is defi- 
nitely more of it in the small shops. 



226 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Obviously, as many correspondents insist, "all 
the crooks are not in the automobile business," 
or the radio business, or the watchmaking busi- 
ness. Here are conditions which go deeper than 
the competition or economics or temptations of 
any particular trade. Over and over again read- 
ers ask : "What would similar surveys reveal in 
other lines of business?" A standard of business 
ethics, one fears, which is low compared with the 
standards of American efficiency, ingenuity, and 
enterprise. "The people of our country," said the 
Sioux City (Iowa) Unionist, "have got to be 
honest or America is all washed up." 




Trade Reactions 




I READ YOUR ARTICLE in the Reader's Digest. Very, 

Very Good and LOUSY. 

If you would give me the honor of visiting me 

for about two minutes I'll ask you one question that 

would stop you before you could open your mouth. 

A RADIO SERVICEMAN 
Brooklyn, N. Y. 

When first news of our survey appeared the 
men in the trade were quick to respond in wrath- 

227 



228 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

ful chorus. Unprecedented volumes of mail 
raised the cry of "false . . . misleading . . . 
cowardly . . . cruel . . . savage . . . Commu- 
nistic." Burning with indignation, repairmen by 
the hundreds gave vent to their feelings via the 
mails. Some correspondent's admit conditions 
exist just as described in the original story. Many 
have submitted thoughtful, well-written manu- 
scripts defending the repairman. But many more 
confine themselves to scathing denunciation of 
the articles, the survey, the author, the investi- 
gators, their methods, their conclusions. Here 
are a few of the brickbats the men in the trade 
heaved at us : 

Gary, Indiana. It seems impossible that any auto- 
mobile repairman could escape the permanently dam- 
aging influences of your adroitly supported propa- 
ganda. 

. . . Even Christ found this dishonest fraction 
among his disciples and there were only twelve 
of them. 

We know from some twenty-five years of constant 
business contact with automotive servicemen that 
they are rather heroically inclined toward kindly 
and conscientious service. 



TRADE REACTIONS 229 

From the editor of a used-car magazine: Our 
20,000 dealer readers greatly resent the vitupera- 
tive attack and consider it without parallel the 
snidest, most vicious, and unfairest type of journal- 
ism. 

St. Paul, Minnesota. The article is ridiculously 
false and unfounded. It is poorly written by a man 
who obviously knows very little about automobiles 
or service. I demand a full retraction at once. 

Norfolk, Virginia. Just as scurrilous as it can be. 
I wonder if there is not some propaganda purpose 
behind this article to destroy public confidence in 
the largest industry. 

New York City. The Riis investigators went 
about with fraudulent intent and an attitude that 
rendered their whole galloping polling escapade ut- 
terly worthless, just a piece of dirt. 

Outremont, Quebec. We are trying to do our best 
to stop delivery of your magazine in the province 
of Quebec, because you seem to be a bunch of liars 
worse than all the garages that you said you con- 
tacted. 

. . . Your John Patric and Lioy May were unable 
to make deductions on anything. They merely took 



230 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

information but never traveled the mileage you state, 
and therefore I call you lousy liars trying to educate 
people on something you do not know yourself. 

The mass tirade continues in such terms : "in- 
famous . . . conceived in iniquity and born in 
sin . . . vicious . . . amateurish resort to cheap 
trickery . . . apparently deliberate misstate- 
ment of facts . . . idle, unfounded statements of 
some literary Quisling . . . horse thief. . . ." 

Some men in the trade temper their blasts with 
a more coherent defense of the repairman : 

Bradford, New Hampshire. Everyone wants his 
car about ten minutes before it gets to the shop. 
Some of the jobs have been "stinkers." The me- 
chanic has skinned his knuckles, burned his arms, 
smacked his head on something, and everything in 
general seems to be going wrong. Do you assume 
that the mechanics can always think straight after 
having been through such a session? Hell ! I've pulled 
some boners that were pips, and I blush when I think 
of them, but the customers have also pulled some 
beauts. Your investigators were dishonestly trying 
to find dishonest repairmen and apparently found 
what they were seeking, or did they? Perhaps the 
mechanics were not all being dishonest deliberately. 



TRADE REACTIONS 231 

One Kalamazoo, Michigan, car dealer writes 
that our article has brought him "some nice 
business," but that at the same time he is "a little 
peeved." 

I could write an article longer than yours telling 
how the public try to gyp me and how they have 
gypped me. I can tell you where preachers have 
lied about the appraisals of their cars. I can show 
you many cases where the public will get an ap- 
praisal on their car and then go home and remove 
and exchange equipment. But what business in the 
U.S.A. has rendered more free service than garage 
and service stations? Who pays for all this free air, 
water, battery service, clean toilets, information, 
taxi service, call for and deliver work, and all the 
free checking, estimates, prices, etc., that the garage- 
man renders? 

Vancouver, British Columbia. Our hats are off to 
those artful, suave, and cynical investigators who 
have so cleverly tricked some 63 per cent of the 
country's comparatively poorest paid, skilled trades- 
men into a dishonest admission. 

. . . The modern motorist, who kills 34,000 
people each year, sends triple that many to the hos- 
pitals, does hundreds of thousands of dollars of dam- 



232 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

age, who curses every policeman who watches him, 
expects every poor sucker who lifts his hood, fills his 
battery, airs his tires, wipes his windshield, and a 
dozen other so-called free services, to say, "Dat's 
all right, I just can't make no charge. I am an honest 
mechanic; I live on hot air." 

Mr. Milton Benz, of Rochester, New York, 
expands upon this same theme of the customer 
being the gyp in an eloquent defense of the 
garageman : 

. . . The American driver, in my experience, con- 
siders chiseling the serviceman in the same category 
as keeping fouled baseballs. He will misrepresent the 
condition of his car, demand as much extra service 
as the traffic will bear, and after an estimate is made 
will try to lump in a few more bits of work for the 
same price. He wants his battery checked, his igni- 
tion checked, his front end checked, his joints, trans- 
mission, clutch, and differential checked, rattles 
sought out, tagged, and enumerated, all for free. 

. . . He considers a garage mid-Victorian if it 
isn't equipped with one of these so-called Rube Gold- 
berg affairs. He expects the owner to provide grind- 
stones, electric drills, tools, fifty-ton presses, brake 



TRADE REACTIONS 233 

machines, lathes, hydraulic jacks, and free advice. 
Sometimes he even expects to work on his own car in 
the service station. If he is charged two dollars for 
a fifteen-minute operation, he is outraged, ignoring 
the fact that the operation might involve several 
hundred dollars' worth of tools and machinery. 

Let us examine this creature further. He demands 
that he be told exactly what a clutch job will cost. 
That leaves two alternatives: The serviceman can 
quote the maximum cost of replacement to include 
a new pressure plate, throwout bearing, driven plate, 
and clutch pilot bearing. This usually covers the 
serviceman but loses the customer, due to apoplexy. 
Or else he can quote the average cost and hope to 
hell he comes out on top. 

Let us assume that we have put in a clutch and 
the customer sourly admits that it is all right. The 
next day he returns and demands to know what we 
did to it to break his rear spring. We mildly assure 
him that we did nothing to it. Well, we must have 
dropped it down too hard and broken it. We con- 
vince him that it was not possible to do this, and he 
grudgingly allows us to repair it but suggests that 
we ought to do it for half price. We, with fine pa- 
tience, refuse and are classed with Hitler. 

The gyp customer will do his best to get you 



234 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

wittingly or unwittingly to condemn the work of 
another garageman who may be your best friend 
and the best mechanic alive. If you do this, he runs 
over two dogs and a cat getting the knock back to 
the aforementioned best friend and mechanic. If you 
say that the job needed a special gauge, jig, or tool, 
the story is translated to wit: "You haven't the 
equipment either mentally or physically to repair a 
roller skate, and your friend down the line says so 
and you're a crook to boot." It takes us six months 
to get our best friend back to the point where he 
will buy a gasket from us if he can't get one some- 
where else. 

Altogether it is a matter of dog eat dog with the 
customer taking the first bite and getting the bigger 
bites. I can prove that by statistics. More garage- 
men starve to death than customers. 

Our investigation of repairmen was naturally 
based upon the premise that all men are honest; 
that was why the results of the survey make such 
startling news, both for us and for the public. 
But many letter-writers take us to task for the 
emphasis we put on the dishonesty which the in- 
vestigations uncovered. Says one correspondent: 
"Considering all the facts, I don't think your 



TRADE REACTIONS 235 

investigator should complain that three fifths of 
all mechanics are dishonest. Rather, he should 
exclaim, 'Thank God, two fifths of all mechanics 
are honest!' " 

In the face of critical comment such as that 
described in the previous pages it is surprising 
indeed to find that there are many men in the 
trade who not only have refrained from attacking 
our findings but readily admit that conditions are 
just about that bad. Says one in DeQueen, Ar- 
kansas: "I know just how true this article is, 
being a garageman myself." From another, in 
Earlville, Illinois : "We'd like every one of our 
customers to read the article." From another in 
Santa Fe, New Mexico: "I am a second genera- 
tion auto repairman. I'm not upset by your find- 
ings. They will make things tough for the honest 
repairman for a while but in the long run he 
will benefit. More power to you!" 

A Chicago watchmaker writes as follows: 
"The story on watch repairmen is most interest- 
ing. Mr. Riis's poll of watchmakers reveals a 
condition which needs airing. I would say that he 
understates the case." 

Shortly after the appearance of the first repair- 



236 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

man story, a number of garagemen in one region 
were questioned; of seventy-eight who had a 
definite opinion, sixty-seven agreed with the sub- 
stance of the article. 

Additional evidence pours in from men in the 
trade who have seen gyppery done. Some confess 
having done it themselves in moderation. "The 
most I'd ever try to overcharge," says one, 
"would be $4.00 or $5.00 none of this $23 the 
investigators found." 

The manager of a filling station in Bennington, 
Vermont, remarks: "I worked in a New York 
City station to get the latest ideas on service but 
soon came home. If I tried up here the stunts 
they pull in New York, my customers would 
shoot me." 

Says a shop owner in Athol, Massachusetts: 
"In a big garage where I used to work we had a 
fellow who, when a car came in with engine 
trouble, always put on a new coil first thing. Got 
to be a joke. When a car drove in and this guy 
began working on it we'd yell to the parts man : 
'Get out another coil!' I don't know how many 
hundred coils that fellow sold to people who 
didn't need them." 



TRADE REACTIONS 237 

That the authors have attempted to make the 
tone of their stories a constructive one was recog- 
nized by many repairmen. A Sioux City, Iowa, 
auto dealer writes that in his opinion the article 
underestimated the percentage of dishonest ga- 
ragemen, saying: "The activities of these un- 
scrupulous operators should be curtailed, and the 
more publicity given to this condition the harder 
it would be for them to apply their shady prac- 
tices. I am writing this letter to congratulate 
you." 

A letter from Hagarstown, Indiana, says : "We 
have certainly never doubted the results of your 
survey. We think it quite timely and one that will 
provoke much constructive thinking among not 
only car owners but dealers throughout the coun- 
try. I notice that a number of the trade papers 
are up in arms over the article and are condemn- 
ing your methods in a most ridiculous manner." 

Says a Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, garage- 
man: "The expose should have a salutary effect 
on every garage operator." 

A garage manager in Onawa, Iowa, reacted 
promptly to our findings. "At my next personnel 
meeting I am reading aloud the article in the 



238 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

July issue of the Digest and presenting each of 
my employees with a check, hoping that this will 
help them to realize that the public respects an 
honest workman." 

Critics in the trade have swarmed all over the 
authors' original statements concerning the 
adaptability of Rube Goldberg machines for 
crooked dealing. Typical comments : "The mod- 
ern automobile or radio cannot be serviced with- 
out these scientific, fact-finding tools. As neces- 
sary to mechanics as X ray to medicine." But 
even manufacturers carefully temper their de- 
fense with admissions that some of this equip- 
ment is not what it should be; and in dishonest 
hands any of it can be used to gyp the customer. 
Says a Chicago manufacturer of legitimate 
service machines: 

We realize that along with the manufacture of 
Rube Goldberg equipment there have been devices 
placed on the market which were far from perfect 
and also that some of this equipment has been used 
by unscrupulous operators to gyp the customers, but 
we realize also that although not entirely free from 
blame, repairmen in general have no monopoly on 
dishonesty. 



TRADE REACTIONS 239 

Many mechanics agree that "the public has 
been led to demand Rube Goldbergs; it thinks 
we're old-fashioned without them. Some of the 
testing devices are necessary, but the fancy cabi- 
nets are not!' Conclusion : If Rube Goldbergs are 
good diagnosticians, they are also super-sales- 
men, and only as helpful, efficient, and honest as 
the men who operate them. 

The survey method which our investigators 
used has been bitterly attacked by the repairmen. 
"A baited trap," one serviceman calls it. "Few 
mechanics know the Lincoln Zephyr; thus the 
findings are distorted," says a Detroit dealer, and 
others join him in objecting to the use of "a car 
with which repairmen are least familiar." But 
we found that the "inexperienced" rural me- 
chanics usually spotted the trouble instantly and 
made no charge; the mechanics of swanky Mi- 
ami and Hollywood, where the Zephyr is com- 
moner, were the ones who failed to pass the test. 
Indeed some repairmen take just the opposite 
view: that the test was too simple. One Council 
Bluffs (Iowa) garageman thinks that the survey 
was "very unfair" but says : "You run around the 
country with a trouble so simple to locate that 



240 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

colored car washers, shade-tree mechanics, or 
anyone could not help but find it. . . ." 

Throughout there is a human tendency to 
blame the other fellow. Usually the independent 
repairmen blame the large concerns: "They've 
got to pay for that overhead somehow." The big 
dealers say, "Look out for the independents, 
they're all fly-by-nights." Here is sad testimony 
from the trade: a garageman in Hoboken, New 
Jersey: "Mechanics haven't been making any- 
thing for several years, so now they're trying 
to get what they think is coming to them." 

An Illinois radioman: "The radio mechanic 
is more often underpaid than any other type of 
skilled laborer. No one will pay a large sum to 
fix an inexpensive radio. Hence every job must 
bring in some money or the serviceman will cease 
to exist. Even a loose wire should be charged for 
(at a reasonable minimum charge)." 

An Albany, New York, repairman says: 
"Most of us garages feel that we've got to try to 
sell the customer everything we can get him to 
buy." 

A Massachusetts mechanic, describing a large 
shop he has just left : "We had a helluva over- 



TRADE REACTIONS 241 

head. We had quotas to make on oil and lube 
jobs. In the shop we had to turn out a certain 
dollar volume every week. And so if we were low 
and it was easy to slip an extra coil on the bill, 
we did it." 

We agreed that repairmen have a point when 
they say that their time and the benefit of their 
experience are valuable and worth something in 
even the smallest cases. But they are worth some- 
thing only when the repairman tells the truth 
and the whole truth. And if these reactions of the 
trade prove nothing else, they prove that the 
customer, too, must treat his repairman as 
squarely as he expects to be treated himself. 
Here's what a small garage owner in Michigan 
has to say on that subject: 

. . . Then there was the first snowfall. I am not 
poetic, but I always remember the first snowfall. We 
have one every year. You pull cars out from 10 P.M. 
until 7 A.M. They are always just off the road. I have 
never found a motorist who honestly admitted that 
he needed a wrecker. There may be but three inches 
of windshield showing above the mud, but all he 
needs is a little push. They didn't expect any trouble, 
so they didn't bring any money. However, they have 



242 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

a cousin in Sandusky who knows my uncle in 
Pewamo, so they're sure you won't mind. Watch 
out, little garageman, the average motorist will gyp 
you if you don't watch out ! 



Metropolitan Dependable as Hartor Ligkt" 





1775 Hartor Avenue 
Pkone MAritime 1932 

April 18th 



Lipy May, 1623 Walnut Street 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 



Members United States Horological Society :: Honest Workmanship 

Overhaul Hamilton Watoh 9.00 

Sales tax on parts used .12 

$9.12 




10 Magazine Excerpts 




From Motor Age 

... A savage, cruel, skimpily supported attack 
on the entire automobile service and repair trade 
of the United States. It is a verbal blitzkreig with no 
more than Hitlerian justification. In fact, to vindi- 
cate his depredations, Hitler has sometimes offered 
pseudo-reasoning which sounded more logical than 
that offered to give seeming substance to this sad 
attempt at sensationalism. 

. . . The false impression is created that a large 
243 



244 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

majority of those in the service business are not much 
if any better than thieves and robbers. To put it 
more mildly, their moral sense is warped. Their 
ethical standards are as low as the ankles of a flat- 
footed mole. 

. . . The male investigator and his female secre- 
tary had a trick which they played. They baited a 
trap in which to catch their prey. They made a dis- 
honest approach in their search for the honest 
serviceman. Or were they, in reality, assiduously 
seeking out the few dishonest ones to prove a pre- 
viously made assumption? Diogenes with his lighted 
lantern was not a member of their party. 

Before pulling up at a service station they slyly 
and surreptitiously detached a wire from one of the 
coils. The male investigator got out and hid or ran 
away and left his female secretary to drive the limp- 
ing automobile up to the haven of unholy hope and 
expectation, pretending that she didn't know what 
was the matter with the car. The lady's written re- 
ports of what followed give reason to believe that 
some, at least, of those who are charged with dis- 
honesty got a preliminary whiff of an aromatic rat 
and decided to turn the would-be crook catcher into 
a landed sucker. How else can we account for such 
a diagnosis as, "Lady, your manifold is gone"? 



MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 245 

. . . The total number of possible calls in such 
an investigation is, therefore, more than 100,000. 
The Reader's Digest investigators called on and 
"tested" 347 out of a possible 100,000 plus, or about 
three tenths of one per cent and then applied their 
scanty, knotty, worm-eaten stuff to the building of 
an ill-shaped and shaky conclusion. . . . 

Copyright, 1941, by Motor Age. 

From Consumers Union Reports, October 
1941. 

. . . Persons familiar with the operation and 
servicing of radios have been aware of the frauds 
involved in radio repairing for some time; the gen- 
eral public has only suspected them. Now that the 
facts are out, various radio-service magazines are 
busily offering apologies on one hand and inventing 
flaws in the investigators* methods on the other. 

Consumers need have no doubts, however, that 
the facts and implications of the Reader's Digest 
article are substantially correct. The investigators 
seem justified in concluding that you run most chance 
of getting gypped in large cities and are most likely 
to get a fair deal in small towns where the service- 
man must be more careful of his reputation. 

The answer to the question: "Why is there so 
much deception and gypping in radio repairing?" 



246 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

is certainly, in part, that there are too many service- 
men for the market to support. Requirements for 
going into the business are simple: more or less 
knowledge of radios and a table to work on. The re- 
sults: a terrific surplus of servicemen both bona 
fide and tinkerers and almost an economic com- 
pulsion for repairmen to overcharge on each job. 
Moreover, a customer will often consider that after 
having his set fixed once, he is entitled to free repairs 
if anything else goes wrong. Thus the repairman 
overcharges partly to cover such nuisance service 
calls. 

From Lehigh Valley Motor Club News, Sep- 
tember 1941. 
FACTS SHOW MOST MOTOR SERVICEMEN HONEST 

With only 218 out of over 200,000 automobile 
service and repairmen proved by a Reader's Digest 
survey to be dishonest the motoring public feels more 
confident than ever that the men who are in business 
to keep America in motor transportation can be 
trusted. The facts furnish a splendid tribute to the 
men engaged in a difficult business. 

In its widely criticized article the Digest attempted 
to prove that, because only 129 out of 347 repair- 
men failed to fall for a trick, three out of five times 
a motorist stops for service at strange shops he will 



MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 247 

be gypped. As Automotive News, mouthpiece of the 
auto industry, points out: this is "like picking one 
bad apple out of a barrel and condemning the whole 
barrel as being rotten." 

Careful observers note that it is not necessary for 
motorists, even in touring, to frequent strange re- 
pair shops. Car manufacturers have their officially 
appointed service stations everywhere. In addition^ 
many well-known products are nationally repre- 
sented. One of the best guides is the A.A.A. emblem 
of the American Automobile Association, approved 
shops which must render efficient and honest service 
to over a million organized motorists. . . . 

From a column in Jobber Topics, August 1941 . 

Some of the attempts at rebuttal to the Reader's 
Digest blast were pathetic. Let's not kid ourselves. 
But so far -as the public is concerned, the less said, 
the better. People forget quickly. . . . 

Copyright, 1941, by the Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. 

From Automotive News, the newspaper of the 
industry, July 14, 1941. 

GYP STORY ROLLS ON 

There's an old saying that you can't tell how far 
a cat will jump by the length of its tail. The same 



248 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

can be said about the story that appeared in the July 
issue of Reader's Digest, which castigated automo- 
tive service shops by making a flat statement that 
three out of five garages were dishonest in their deal- 
ings with car owners. 

Now to our desk come copies of the New York 
Times, Detroit News, and the Milwaukee Journal, 
all carrying rewrites of this now well-known Gyp 
story. In addition to the rewrites in the Detroit 
papers was a story stating that one of the Detroit 
City Fathers had proposed to the common council 
an ordinance that would legislate the crooked ser- 
vice station out of business. 

All this because one writer called on 347 garages 
scattered from coast to coast and found that only 
169 \_Qur figure was 129 the authors.] diagnosed 
his trouble correctly. An entire industry with over 
200,000 service outlets is being crucified in public 
print because of the experiences collected in 347 
calls. 

Dealers are yelling for somebody to prove this 
story a fake. 

Who has bona fide figures to show if the per- 
centage of garages claimed do or do not overcharge 
their customers ? We know that we don't have them, 
nor do the car manufacturers have them. We doubt 



MAGAZINE EXCERPTS 249 

very much if anyone could possibly get accurate fig- 
ures to show if and how much deliberate dishonesty 
was running rampant in the service field. 

Nor do we feel that it would be possible to find 
how much unintentional dishonesty was practiced 
because service managers and mechanics diagnosed 
trouble wrongly. 

We do know, however, that hundreds of dealers 
do not provide their service managers with sufficient 
incentive to increase the dealer's service-customer 
following; we know that other hundreds seldom, if 
ever, check on the operation of their service depart- 
ment to see if it is giving efficient service and is 
manned by mechanics who are experienced and actu- 
ally know their business. 

The cat has jumped its tail was short but evi- 
dently has fanned a smoldering fire. Maybe the print- 
ing of this Gyp story, while it may destroy the con- 
fidence that thousands of owners might have had 
in the honesty and fair dealing of their service 
source, will in the long run have a very beneficial 
effect upon dealer service by causing hundreds or 
thousands of dealers to check up on the type of 
service their shop is rendering and see if they are 
unwittingly overcharging or cheating their best cus- 
tomers owners of the cars they sell. 



1 1 Aftermaths 



4 *1000.00 REWARD 
RIIS & PATRIC 




THE AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY is per- 
haps the ablest single industry in the country, an 
industry packed with keen, intelligent men. So 
it is strange that their reaction to the serious 
statements we made about them was so uncom- 
prehending. 

Those mechanics we talked to admitted, in 
conversation, that we were quite right, or, rather, 
86 per cent of them did. But of all the hostile re- 

250 



AFTERMATHS 251 

actions we found only half a dozen really intelli- 
gent ones, and of those, two stand out, one from a 
car manufacturer, one from a trade magazine. 

Only one motorcar manufacturer sent his rep- 
resentative to discuss the situation with us. Sev- 
eral others wrote commendatory letters or broad- 
cast among their dealers reprints of the magazine 
article. But just the single manufacturer thought 
it well to dig further into the subject as it affected 
his own large national network of dealers. His 
public-relations man came to New York, from 
Detroit, to inquire whether our research tour had 
visited any of his company's local dealers, and, if 
so, what the results had been. It is perhaps a com- 
mentary on this company's attitude that, on going 
over the reports, we found we had covered a few 
of his dealers, and that they had all measured up 
to the best in the field. 

The representative of one big oil company in- 
vited us to his motor proving station to witness 
the most gigantic of all Rube Goldbergs in ac- 
tion. We accepted the invitation and had our 
own old car tested on his machine. The situation 
was hardly covered by our original statements 
about the Goldberg machines, because this one 



REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

was not being used to merchandise repair work, 
it was being used purely as a good-will proposi- 
tion to influence motorists to use a special brand 
of gas. There was no possibility of gypping the 
public even if the operators of the machine had 
wanted to, which they palpably did not. 

And one single trade magazine came to see us 
and investigate us. Therein lies matter for real 
wonder, that the press of America's most alert in- 
dustry was so markedly not alert itself. As a point 
of fact, the job that we did should have been 
done long before 'by a trade magazine. Instead, 
however, these magazines contented themselves 
with sundry forms of denial of our statements 
and abuse of us. 

The single editor who called upon us said that 
he wanted to see what kind of people we were 
and photograph us so that he could show his 
readers what kind of people we looked like. Well 
and good. In his commentary on our charges he 
went as far toward reason and intelligent discus- 
sion as he could. But even he refused point-blank 
to photograph our impressive table covered with 
parts improperly or allegedly removed from our 
test car. He gave no reason for his refusal, but the 



AFTERMATHS 253 

fact is that a photograph of that table is damag- 
ing factual evidence in our favor. 

One leading motor magazine the only one 
which refused permission to reprint its comment 
went through astonishing contortions to prove 
our survey all wrong. 

The editor related how, a year previously, he 
had installed in his own car a badly burned valve 
and had taken that car to fourteen garages for 
diagnosis. The valve, which he keeps in his desk, 
was badly burned so that it needed replacement. 
Yet, he said, not a single one of those garages 
made any effort to sell him the valve job that his 
car really required. When Riis suggested to him 
that this was strange evidence of the competence 
of those garages, he replied that it showed they 
were too honest, so honest they didn't even sell 
the customer what they should sell him. 

One of the strange statements made by these 
editors ran to this effect: "It was instantly obvi- 
ous to the mechanics you tested that they were 
being tested. They spotted the unusual job as a 
test proposition and therefore, naturally, they 
set out to rook you. That follows irresistibly." 
Maybe it does, though it is wholly beyond nor- 



254 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

mal comprehension; does a man always, inevi- 
tably, lie and cheat when he knows he is being 
tested? 

This magazine collected itself for a blast 
against our original article and emitted it in the 
form of a large, boxed offer of $1,000 reward, 
apparently for proof of the truth of our article. 
It left the intended impression that the maga- 
zine would pay anyone $1,000 who could prove 
that Messrs. Patric and Riis hadn't lied. 

When we wrote the editor, asking for details 
and specifications so that we could attempt to 
win that thousand dollars, the editor replied that 
he was pretty busy with the next issue. 

How much more intelligent was the act of the 
authorized dealers in several cities like San 
Francisco and Hartford, in uniting in full-page 
newspaper advertisements reading like this : 

YES, READER'S DIGEST, WE HAVE 
READ YOUR ARTICLE THAT IN SAN 
FRANCISCO "GYPS" PREDOMINATE 62 
TO 20. ... MR. AUTO OWNER, 
THAT'S WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE 
YOUR CAR HOME FOR SERVICE TO 
YOUR RESPONSIBLE DEALER. 



AFTERMATHS 255 

If ever the motorcar owner had good reason to 
look for authorized dealer service, authorized parts, 
in the care of his proudly possessed automobile, the 
Reader's Digest has pointed out How and Why! 

In one of the most widely talked of articles writ- 
ten about the service trades in years there is men- 
tioned among other things that in San Francisco 
"the gyps predominate 62 to 20." 

It is a source of pride to every one of us motorcar 
dealers and distributors who sign this statement that 
"no new car-dealer service departments were men- 
tioned as such." 

Be assured that we guarantee you, at all times: 

1. Expert diagnosis of any of your car troubles. 

2. Expert mechanical work. 

3. Authorized replacement parts. 

4. Minimum and predetermined costs. 

5. A square deal. 

Part of your obligations in the nation's defense 
program is to drive safely. To fulfill that obligation, 
keep your car in safe running condition. Come to us 
for the service work you and your car need. 

WE ARE DETERMINED THAT YOU SHALL 
RECEIVE A SQUARE DEAL 

There follows a list of fifteen participating 
auto dealers. 



256 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Radio Today was the only radio publication, 
so far as we could see, which took the attitude: 
These charges are pretty severe, probably too 
severe, but what is there we can do about them, 
how can we improve conditions within our in- 
dustry? We quote from this magazine's editorial 
comment : 

. . . Out of the survey conducted by the Reader's 
Digest, however, come some excellent lessons for 
responsible servicemen in methods of dealing with 
customers, so that any appearance of unethical con- 
duct may be avoided in the minds of laymen. Cus- 
tomers do not understand the complicated processes 
through which servicemen arrive at their diagnosis 
and so are likely to misunderstand even the most in- 
telligent safeguarding of the customer's interests. 

An unforgivable fault reported from some service- 
men in the Reader's Digest survey was that of charg- 
ing for parts not actually put into the sets, or for 
services not rendered. Certainly there is no excuse 
for methods of this kind and no necessity. Above all, 
it isn't necessary to pad the bill with phony charges 
if the serviceman will explain the just and reasonable 
charges that should be made for the work he has 
done. 



AFTERMATHS 257 

. . . To sum up the whole situation, do an honest 
job, sell the things that are needed, and get a fair 
price for your work. Your weapons against the 
charge of being a "gyp" are these : 

1. Your reputation as a local businessman. 

2. Your membership in a local service organiza- 
tion which guarantees the work of its mem- 
bers. 

3. Your methods of doing business itemized 
bills, guaranteed workmanship, etc. 

It would be foolish to state that there are no 
"chiselers" in radio or any other particular business. 
However, Radio Today feels certain that the per- 
centage in the radio service field is very, very much 
less than the percentage arrived at in the article 
under discussion. 

One of the constant statements thrown back at 
us was this: "Ah, but there are 200,000 service 
stations, and you tested only a few hundred; 
that's far too small a percentage." Maybe so ; but 
there are seventy-two radio and trade publi- 
cations in the United States, and we can test all 
of them by their response to these articles. In our 
opinion only three of them, or 4 per cent, reacted 
intelligently. Angry recrimination is not an in- 
telligent answer. 



258 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

The watch trade was less embittered, more re- 
ceptive, so far as its press revealed. 

From the Hamilton Traveler, November 
1941. 

Well it finally happened. 

Along with its exposure of "gyppery" in auto- 
mobile and radio repair service the Reader's Digest 
finally got around to the watchmaker in its Septem- 
ber issue. Of several hundred watchmakers investi- 
gated, it was found that 49 out of 100 sought to 
take advantage of the customer's lack of watch 
knowledge by overcharging him or by doing a lot 
of unnecessary work. The fact that this compares 
with a total of 63 "gyps" out of every 100 auto- 
mobile repairmen investigated, and with 64 out of 
every 100 radio technicians, is small consolation. 

A study of all three Reader's Digest articles, 
however, would seem to indicate something more 
than outright dishonesty on the part of many of the 
repairmen involved. It indicates that many of them 
fell back on dishonest excuses simply because they 
were poor businessmen and didn't have the ability 
to charge the customer what they thought the job 
was really worth. Instead of making the minor ad- 
justments which were asked for by the Digest in- 
vestigators, then charging a minimum fee to which 



AFTERMATHS 259 

they were entitled, they lied to the customer. . . . 
Just as there is no excuse for "gyppery," so there is 
no excuse for pussyfooting on the matter of fair 
repair prices. 

. . . Actually, the Reader's Digest is to be con- 
gratulated upon its investigation. No honest watch- 
maker has the slightest reason to be upset about it. 

Watches still need service. People aren't going to 
quit patronizing watchmakers because of this or any 
other article. They're simply going to be more par- 
ticular where they go. 

Any way you look at it, this is a real break for 
the square shooter who does good work at fair 
prices and who knows how to merchandise his facil- 
ities to the public in a way that gains their con- 
fidence. 

Copyright, 1941, Hamilton Watch Co. 

From the Jewelers' Circular-Keystone, Sep- 
tember 1941. 

... If the editors expected us to rush to the 
defense of the entire watch-repairing craft with a 
claim that practically every watchmaker is a high- 
grade reputable craftsman whose integrity and abil- 
ity are above reproach, in the way that radio and 
automotive papers took up the cudgels when the 
Reader's Digest published similar reports covering 



260 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

those fields, they are going to be greatly surprised. 
We heartily subscribe to the general conclusion set 
forth and only regret that the article didn't give a 
little more information as to the details of conduct- 
ing the investigation and a little better advice on 
how to detect and avoid the gyp. 

No one who has the least acquaintance with the 
watch-repair field will deny that it is infested with 
a substantial number of repairmen who are either 
dishonest or incompetent, or both. 

. . . No one is more keenly aware of, or more 
eager to improve, the deplorable conditions in the 
watch-repair business than the watchmakers them- 
selves. That they have not had greater success is no 
fault of theirs. In state after state watchmakers' 
associations have striven for legislation that would 
require examination and licensing, and in state after 
state, with the exception of Wisconsin, Indiana, and 
Oregon, have the public's legislators turned a deaf 
or hostile ear. 

... If the Reader's Digest article helps, as we 
hope it will, to awaken the public to the need for 
regulation and enlists public support of the drive 
for examination and licensing, the fraternity of hon- 
orable watchmakers will owe them a sincere vote 
of thanks. 



12 Doctors and Lawyers 



WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH </OU 
YOUR EYES MIGHT BE THE CAUSE 
LET OS CHECK THEM TQ-OAY.. 




IN THE IMMENSE FLOOD of correspondence 
which poured into Pleasantville after publica- 
tion of the garage repairman story one idea 
recurred so many times that it deserves comment. 
That idea was, in essence : 

"Why pick on us mechanics? There are crooks 
in every line of business. Why not take the law- 
yers, but especially why not the doctors? Doctors 
must be crooks or they would not have to conceal 
their prescriptions in Latin." 

261 



262 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

The repeated reference to doctors is certainly 
evidence of a prevailing feeling in the American 
people that our doctors are not all they should 
be. That is possible ; but neither are authors, or 
even publishers. Aside from the merit or demerit 
of the charge against doctors there is one excel- 
lent reason why no similar survey of the medi- 
cal ranks can be made. 

The first essential in this type of investigation 
is to present a clear-cut, neat problem to the 
group being investigated. It is much like exam- 
ining a class in school. If it is mathematics, you 
ask the members of the class specific mathemati- 
cal questions, as, for example: "How much is 
eleven times eleven?" Only one answer is cor- 
rect. If it is history, you ask mostly questions 
capable of definite answers, such as the date of 
the Punic Wars, or the course of events leading 
to the Treaty of Ghent. 

We were at great pains to evolve that type of 
clear-cut problem to present to the repairmen in 
each field. We found early in the job that we 
could not take a car to a garage and say, "What 
do you recommend doing to this car?" We had to 
offer them a simple, compact, open-and-shut 



DOCTORS AND LAWYERS 263 

problem, and that is what we did when we took 
to them the car with the wire off the coil. That is 
what we did with the radio and its loose tube and 
the typewriter with its unhooked carriage or 
loosened platen, and the watch with its loosened 
screw. 

But you can hardly do that in the medical 
field. There is too much legitimate room for 
differing interpretations of human ailments and 
different diagnoses and prescriptions. It is not 
easy to find an absolute for the investigators to 
fall back on. Suppose I go to ten doctors and say 
that I have a pain in my stomach ; I could not 
blame the ten for ten different prescriptions. 
Maybe, even if I have no stomach pain, I do need 
the rest or the laxative or the changed diet they 
might invariably prescribe. There might emerge 
interesting facts as to the fees charged, but they 
are facts which we all know now. 

Four years ago Riis touched on the medical 
field in an investigation of optometry throughout 
the United States. It happened that a member of 
his family had an ulcer on the eye, and in her 
anxiety and trouble she was consulting medical 
eye specialists up and down the East coast. At 



264 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

that moment Riis saw a big painted sign in the 
window of an optometrist's store reading to the 
effect that whatever was wrong with you, your 
eyes might be the cause, and spectacles might 
cure it. It struck him as strange that when the 
nation's greatest specialists were struggling over 
a problem the proprietor of a street-front store 
had so glib an answer. 

So he sent a cavalcade throughout the United 
States, having their eyes tested in optometric 
shops of all kinds. The work inevitably brought 
him in touch with the medical men too; and 
while the results convinced him that the optome- 
trists had much to regret, they also convinced this 
writer that the medical men were at fault in stay- 
ing contentedly in their ivory towers and not 
crusading for better health services. Yes, the 
doctors have faults. 

A voracious investigator, eager for punish- 
ment, might survey the different fields of medi- 
cine by devising some mild ailment and taking 
it to a hundred M.D.s, a hundred osteopathic 
physicians, a hundred allopaths, homeopaths, 
mental healers, and what have you. There is no 
reason to believe that, if he were still healthy at 



DOCTORS AND LAWYERS 265 

the conclusion of his research, he would have any 
more knowledge than we all now have. There 
are good doctors and bad doctors in all types of 
healing, but you can never "expose" them by 
statistics. By and large, I believe they do as well 
as they can as idealistically as they can, with 
much more conscience than our friends in the 
garages. 

Because of the necessity in these days for all of 
us to make our old household machines function 
a year or two longer than usual, we confined our 
survey to the repairmen of various industries. 
Doctors are not really repairmen, except in the 
broad sense intended by a clergyman who asked 
Riis to come and lecture to his church on the 
question : "Do the ministers, as spiritual repair- 
men, gyp their customers by dishonest soul re- 
pair?" Neither are lawyers to be classed as re- 
pairmen. A survey of the type of lawyers who 
frequent the municipal courts of our big cities 
would, probably, if properly "tested," reveal 
markedly anti-civic practices, but how are you 
going to test them? It is worth speculating about. 
This writer has sat on many juries and wasted 
time on trivial cases which should never have 



266 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

come to court at all, and only did come to court 
because two sets of second-rate lawyers were hap- 
pily opposing each other and profiting by the 
opposition. But how to investigate them? One 
could hardly devise an imaginary case and take 
it to lawyers for their handling. 

Mention is made here of the doctors and the 
lawyers simply because the garagemen, in their 
counterfire, aimed so many shots in the direc- 
tion of those two professions. To repairmen who 
attempted to cover their retreat by that tactic 
we replied that they might be right, but that it is 
no defense of the repairmen to say that other call- 
ings contained dishonest practitioners too. If I 
am hauled into court charged with assault and 
battery, it is not a successful defense for me to 
say "Yes, but look at Mr. Z., he killed a man." It 
would be, in fact, an admission of my guilt in 
the charge of assault and battery. So, with the 
garagemen, their attempt to pass the charge 
along to the doctors and lawyers was an actual 
admission of their own guilt as mechanics. 



13 



Conclusion 




AT THIS POINT we may be permitted a little gen- 
eral theorizing. Unquestionably the repairmen 
we tested showed a large amount of either dis- 
honesty or incompetence. The investigators' odys- 
sey yielded a total of 1,374 clear-cut tests ; in only 
601 of these did the repairmen come through 
with a clean slate. Why should there be any dis- 
honesty or incompetence in these businesses? 
Two facts emerge. The men who cheated did 
267 



268 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

so because of economic pressure. Either they are 
underpaid, as mechanics, or they labor under 
high costs and heavy taxes, as owners. Secondly, 
the investigators were strangers to them. Often 
obviously strangers in the community, and the 
stranger has been from time immemorial fair 
game. 

That factor is important. Dishonestyprevailed 
in the big cities for the same reason, which basi- 
cally is the element of anonymity. If the other 
man doesn't know you, and if you don't know 
him, and you never expect to meet again, you 
are more inclined to cheat him than if he is a 
neighbor. Immigrants to the United States long 
illustrated the same truth : until they settled in 
communities and obtained identities, crime was 
much more common among them. 

Wrote Harold Bell Wright to John Patric: 

. . . We all know that the deplorable state of 
business ethics disclosed is by no means confined to 
the repairing of automobiles, radios, watches, etc. 
The condition revealed by your investigation is no 
more than the small pimple which sometimes evi- 
dences the presence of a deadly cancer. 

. . . The appalling thing about it all is that 



CONCLUSION 269 

ninety-nine out of a hundred readers of your factual 
demonstration will say "of course, we know it, but 
business is business." The common belief is that only 
fools and credulous idealists these days believe in 
the possibility of honest ways of living. The ap- 
palling thing, I say, is that these dishonesties are so 
universally applauded as good business and smart 
politics. 

I still believe that the instinct peculiar to man 
which incites him to brotherly love and kindness, to 
honor and honesty, to justice and sacrifice, to loyalty 
and integrity, to idealism and faith, will eventually 
lift the race out of this muck of materialism. 

Critics of this survey have suggested that the 
revelations indicate a general American trend 
toward petty swindling, a habit much more com- 
mon in older countries where economic pressure 
has been much more severe. It would be un- 
fortunate if this were true ; but it is not too late 
by any means to head off any such trend. Fifty 
years ago and less dishonesty in the United States 
was more or less a natural characteristic of great 
corporations. Public opinion corrected that; 
public opinion can correct any modern trend 
toward crookedness on the part of little business. 



270 REPAIRMEN WILL GET YOU 

Public opinion, after all, is reputation, and repu- 
tation is precisely the opposite of the anonym- 
ity which fosters cheating. 

Confidence in public opinion is the factor 
which directly refutes the charge that Ameri- 
cans are increasingly dishonest. Public opinion 
was notably shocked by the articles on repair- 
men; it was shocked because public opinion is set 
against "smart" practices in business. The nation 
which retains so alert and vigorous a public opin- 
ion is, by desire and intent, an honest nation. 

In that direction lies the only sound corrective 
for the cheating our investigators unearthed. 
Laws will not do it; laws never make men honest. 
But the prestige of honesty, the jealous pride of 
good reputation will do it. All men covet being 
known as honorable men; therefore the more 
publicity the subject gets, the better. Hence the 
articles, hence this book. An open public atti- 
tude encourages honesty and discourages crook- 
edness. 

Responsible repairmen in any community can 
undertake to correct their own evils. No out- 
siders can do it nearly so well. Too, the great 
national manufacturers should think carefully 



CONCLUSION 271 

about organized effort in the same direction. The 
manufacturer, throughout these surveys, appears 
as a solid, reliable, and very important factor. 
He is conspicuous; that is, he has no anonymity, 
he has a reputation. He has every motive to de- 
liver good products and to encourage the best of 
service for them. He can well ponder closer 
relations with his field representative. 

But more powerful than reason, more effective 
than pleading, is pride, personal pride, pride in 
the craft. The repairman today is a technician; 
how can he help being proud of his standing? 



WILC GYP YOU 
DONT WATCH OUT 




First and last drawings in a Sunday page by Webster. Although, in this 
case, The Timid Soul found a truthful mechanic, Caspar Milquetoast 
admitted in a letter to the authors that "often I'm not so fortunate." 



Why is Repairmen May Gyp You in an "author's edition"? 
Here are some of the reasons: comments taken from letters 
of readers of Yankee Hobo in the Orient, which to date has 
sold nearly twice as many copies in its author's editions as it 
did in all the five editions that were published by Doubleday 



"I always thought / was a freedom-loving man, but never realized 
how little I really knew about freedom until I read your magnificent 
book. You tell it so simply ! How I wish every man and woman in the 
whole world could read Yankee Hobo in the Orient. We'll cherish our 
copy always." Joe Shirlow, service station, Oakland, New Jersey 

"Parts of it are sheer delight, and all of it is absorbing." Helen 
Hironimus, warden, Women's Federal Penitentiary Alderson, West Va. 

"Mother wrote me about your book. I want a copy for my son. 
Here's a check written on a scrap of wrapping paper all I have in 
the jungle. It'll be good." Major Perley Lewis, somewhere in Burma 

"Your own new edition of Yankee Hobo in the Orient is superior 
in every way to the Doubleday editions. Herewith check, and the names 
of ten friends to whom 1 want the book sent as gifts." Ed Hill 

"Turned the last page as reluctantly as I close Lin Yu Tang and 
Thomas Wolfe." Sara Dorris Hodson, Harrisburg, Illinois 

"Bob brought Yankee Hobo in the Orient home and stood in the 
kitchen reading it aloud while I got supper. I was so interested that I 
let the applesauce burn. We were having guests; Bob had to go and 
buy a bakery pie. I'm pretty busy raising five youngsters, but I enjoyed 
every word in your fine book." Mary Williamson, Austin Texas 





"The writing flows, while the reader just floats on and on with it. 
And you have the oddest sense of humor I've ever encountered!" 
Maxine Kisor, singer, Avalon-by-the-Lake, Canandaiga, New York 

"I read a borfowed copy of your new 8th edition. Now I want one 
for myself, another for a gift." Alice Greenacre, attorney, Chicago 

"Not only a well-told story; I admire the physical makeup of the 
book." James Chillman, Jr., director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

"Everyone to whom I lend your book in my deplorable but beloved 
country in Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Berlin is grateful 
to me for the privilege of reading it." Paul Amman, Germany 

"Everything about your own new edition is attractive. You gave 
great thought and attention to every detail. Wish Methuen could print 
some editions like it." J. A. White, book publisher, London, England 

"The best since Richard Halliburton." Wolfe Stalmaker-Haven 

"Read it enviously. Adventure such as this I would have loved 
in my youth; now I must enjoy it vicariously." Anne Grant Rogers 

"Many of us here at the office and at home, my wife have liked 
Yankee Hobo in the Orient. Most interested in how you got along on 
so little money. I enjoyed the tale of the White Russian beauty." 
Wheeler Sammons, Jr., associate publisher, Who's Who in America 




Yankee Hobo is now in 
its ninth edition. It is 
a good gift book, 
with something 
for everyone 
young or 
old. ' 



Fine cloth edition 
postpaid at $3.50 

Newsprint paper, 
tagstock cover, $1 




If your 
favorite book 
shop does not stock 
Yankee Hobo, it may be 
ordered from Frying Pan Creek 
at Florence, Oregon. Please allow the 
author a little time to fill your order. He may be 
up the Creek fishing, off on another hobo trip, 
or back in New York getting out a new edition. In 
such cases the order would have to be forwarded. 



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EDITION 



"Here," says The Indianapolis News, 

is an adventure in good reading the 

acquisition of useful knowledge 

from an intelligent and well- 
written book. Its amusing 

anecdotes and significant 

observations, are unusually 

fascinating." 

"Before he went to the 

Orient," says Time, "Patric 

lived in the United States 

in the way a poor Japanese 

lives in Japan. This was to 

save money for his journey 

and to condition himself 

for life in the Orient. It 

was money well spent. The 

book is a candidly simple 

record of traveling light in 

lands that most Americans 

see expensively, if at all." 

Liberty Magazine and The Chicago Tribune called this 

volume: "contemporary American Lafcadio Hearn." 

The Observer in London 
remarks: "A rare, unusual 
book by a vivid narrator," 
Time & Tide: "The book 
has careful observation and 
clarity, sustained interest 
and originality, sense and 
fun an animating spirit 
that's mellow and tender." 
London Times: "Original; 
and entertaining." And in 
Edinburgh, The Scotsman: 
"Independent, frank, and 
direct." The Irish Times, 
of Dublin: "Ships, trains, 
restaurants, inns, men and 
notably women, come 
to life in the pages of this 
volume. There cannot be 
many better." Additional 

press comment appears on the inside of this jacket, the part 

that lies against the cover of the book and is usually blank. 




tot 

oaner. cloth, $3.50. Newsprint, taestock cover, $1